Karnataka caste politics set to get Sonia boost

The Congress chief will participate in a birthday function of Shivakumara Swami in an attempt to woo the Lingayat group.

Published: 22nd April 2012 01:21 PM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2012 07:41 PM   |  A+A-

BANGALORE: The Congress is going all out to woo a powerful caste group in Karnataka that is generally perceived to be a strong supporter of the rival Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) even as the latter dithers in setting its house in order.

State Congress leaders are set for a major score as they have succeeded in roping in party president Sonia Gandhi to be present at a birthday function of Sri Shivakumara Swami of Sri Siddaganga Mutt, who has a large following among the politically powerful Lingayat community.

With caste-based religious leaders wielding enormous clout in the state, political parties have been assiduously courting them in different ways.

The BJP, which came to power for the first time in the southern state in May 2008, took the cake in this exercise as it tried to win over sect-based religious heads.

Its government simply doled out millions of rupees every year in the last five state budgets to various 'mutts' or religious institutions. Its first chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, who was forced by the BJP to quit over mining bribery charges in July last year, started the trend.

His successor D.V. Sadananda Gowda continued it in his first, and perhaps last, budget as assembly elections are due in April-May next year.

Though the Congress and Janata Dal-Secular parties have been ridiculing the BJP for being generous to these mutts at the cost of the tax payer, they too find it hard to completely ignore them, particularly when elections are near.

Lingayats and Vokkaligas are the two caste groups that have dominated Karnataka politics for decades, though they form just about 17 percent and 16 percent of the state's total population of around 61 million.

Lingayats, once strong backers of the Congress, are believed to have shifted their support to the BJP over the years following alleged neglect of the community by the party, particularly after then chief minister Veerendra Patil was unceremoniously ordered out by the party command in 1990.

The Siddaganga seer is a centenarian and celebrated his 105th birthday April 1 at his mutt in Siddaganga, about 60 km north of Bangalore.

A special birthday fete is being organised there April 28 at which Sonia Gandhi will be present, according to state Congress chief G. Parameshwara.

The Congress general secretary in charge of Karnataka, Madhusudan Mistry, and Parameshwara have already met the seer and discussed the arrangements for Sonia Gandhi's visit.

Though billed as a non-political visit as she will be visiting the mutt to greet the seer on his 105th birthday, it will, the party hopes, yield political dividends as the ruling BJP is battered by scandals, corruption and a determined bid by Yeddyurappa to become chief minister again in view of his so-called clout over the Lingayat community.

It will also placate the Lingayat leaders who are still in the state Congress unit as they have been openly demanding better positions and greater say in running the party affairs.

With BJP national leaders unclear about the hold Yeddyurappa has on his caste group and the possibility of factional fights intensifying in the party's state unit, the Congress could not have chosen a better moment to arrange for their supreme leader Sonia Gandhi to pay obeisance to a powerful community leader.

Stay up to date on all the latest Karnataka news with The New Indian Express App. Download now
(Get the news that matters from New Indian Express on WhatsApp. Click this link and hit 'Click to Subscribe'. Follow the instructions after that.)


Disclaimer : We respect your thoughts and views! But we need to be judicious while moderating your comments. All the comments will be moderated by the newindianexpress.com editorial. Abstain from posting comments that are obscene, defamatory or inflammatory, and do not indulge in personal attacks. Try to avoid outside hyperlinks inside the comment. Help us delete comments that do not follow these guidelines.

The views expressed in comments published on newindianexpress.com are those of the comment writers alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of newindianexpress.com or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of The New Indian Express Group, or any entity of, or affiliated with, The New Indian Express Group. newindianexpress.com reserves the right to take any or all comments down at any time.

flipboard facebook twitter whatsapp