BENGALURU: The Siddaramaiah government's high-risk gamble to play the Lingayat card with a religious minority tag has turned out to be a costly misadventure electorally, leaving Congress poorer in terms of assembly seats.
BJP has made a strong showing in Mumbai-Karnataka region, where it won 30 out of 50 seats, conceding 17 to Congress, down from 31 it had won in the previous 2013 assembly polls.
While out of 36 seats in central Karnataka region, Congress' tally dropped to 13 from 19 last year,BJP made steep gains by winning 15 seats, compared to three it won in 2013.
In Hyderabad-Karnataka region also, BJP increased its tally from 10 seats to 15, even as Congressretained a lead with 21 out of 40 seats.
The influential and politically powerful Lingayats are a dominant caste in Mumbai-Karnataka and Hyderabad-Karnataka in the northern region of the state and Central Karnataka.
That the move to accord religious minority status to Lingayats and Veerashaiva Lingayats backfired is exemplified by the defeat of three prominent ministers, Vinay Kulkarni, Dr Sharanprakash Patil and Basavaraj Rayareddi.
All the three ministers were the prominent faces of the Siddaramaiah government, who had aggressively pushed for the religious minority tag to the Lingayat community.
The Siddaramaiah government has recommended to the Centre to give religious minority tag to Lingayats and Veerashaiva Lingayats, who follow the philosophy of 12th century social reformer Basaveshwara.
The move was seen as an attempt to break the traditional Lingayat vote base of BJP.
After having pushed the issue aggressively, the Congress seemed to have developed cold feet in the run-up to the elections, as it was wary of the electoral implications.
It's worst fears cametrue, as the party not only fared badly in regions where thecommunity was dominant,but Congress leaders and ministers involved in a state-wide campaign for the cause were defeated.
On the other hand, BJP did well bypicking up more than half of the 120 odd seats in Karnataka,where Lingayats are a dominant community.
This also indicates that Congress' attempts to sway the community by recommending for religious minority status ahead of the election did not succeed.
Seats dominated by the Lingayat community are spread across Mumbai and Central Karnataka, where BJP has done considerably well, as also in Hyderabad-Karnataka region, where they fared marginally well.
However, another prominant face of the Lingayat movement, Minister M B Patil won from Bableshwar in Vijayapura district.
The results are also being seen as B S Yeddyurappa, considered as 'Lingayat strongman', reasserting his clout on the community,as BJP successfully projected the Lingayat issue as an effort by Congress to keep him awayfrom the Chief Minister's chair.
Also what is seen to have consolidated Lingayat votes against Congress is BJP managing to project the decisionto accord religious minority tag to Lingayats as an attempt to divide the community/Hindus for political gains.
Lingayats/Veerashaivas are said to form about 17 percent of the population.
There were sharp divisions within the Siddaramaiah government in its apparent move to take away a significant slice of the Lingayat/Veerashaiva vote bank that has largely stayed with the BJP, ahead of the polls.
CongressMinisters and leaders belonging to the Veerashaiva community likeShamanuru Shivashankarappa had openly opposed the decision.
The demand for a separate religion tag to Veerashiva/ Lingayat faiths had surfaced from the numericallystrong and politically-influential community, amid resentment from within over projecting the two communities as the same.
One section led by Akhila Bharata VeerashaivaMahasabha has demanded separate religion status, assertingthat Veerashaivas and Lingayats are the same.
The other group wants it only for Lingayats as they believe Veerashaivas are one among the seven sects of Shaivas, which is part of Hinduism.
Of late, some Lingayatshave also stated that they were open to having Veerashaivas under their umbrella, but the Lingayatnomenclature was non-negotiable.
The state cabinet on March 19 decided to recommendto the Centre grant of religious minority tag for Lingayats and Veerashaiva Lingayats.
This was based on the report of an expert committee that had recommended considering grant ofrecognition as religious minority to Lingayats and Veerashaiva Lingayats (Believers of Basava Tatva (philosophy).
Subsequently,the Karnataka minorities' welfaredepartment notified Lingayats and Veerashaiva Lingayats asa religious minority,but said it would come into effect afterthe Centre's approval to the state recommendation.
For Siddarmaiah too, the Lingayat issue seems to have backfired personally, as Chamundeshwari from where he lost by a margin of over 36,000 votes, has a considerable Lingayat population along with Vokkaligas.
Along with Lingayats, Vokkaliga votes are also seen to have consolidated against Congress in the old Mysuru region inthis election.