Bengaluru: History is repeating in Karnataka after 12 years. It is once again Lingayats versus Vokkaligas.
HD Kumaraswamy during his first term as the chief minister had denied power to alliance partner and BJP leader BS Yeddyurappa, forcing early elections to the state Assembly in 2008. The BJP went to people with “betrayal” of Lingayat stalwart Yeddyurappa by Vokkaliga leader Kumaraswamy. That strategy had paid off and the BJP rode to power with the support of five independent MLAs a few months later.
Now, a Vokkaliga chief minister Kumaraswamy is ruling the state with the support of Congress. The Lingayat leader Yeddyurappa is making a huge effort to unseat him by poaching coalition MLAs at any cost.
On the ground, it is now the turn of the Vokkaligas to accuse their traditional rivals - the Lingayats - of trying to topple a Gowda-led government in the state. And this narrative has unnerved Vokkaliga and other MLAs from old Mysore region, which is a stronghold of the Gowdas.
Together Lingayats and Vokkaligas form about 30% of state’s population and always win over 50% of the seats in any election. After the unification of Karnataka in 1956, the two most powerful castes in the state have been at loggerheads for power dividing the state on caste lines.
Lingayats who claim that they are a separate religion and not Hindus have about 16%-18% population across the state. But they are dominant in north Karnataka. The Vokkaligas who constitute about 12%-13% of the population are the single largest caste in old Mysore region.
Lingayats have thousands of small and big mutts headed by seers. The Vokkaligas have only one Mutt headed by a powerful seer.
According to JDS sources, Vokkaliga seer Nirmalananda Natha Swamy is angry with the BJP for trying to topple the JDS-led government in the state. The seer belongs to the Nath sect of UP CM Yogi Adityanath and has an excellent rapport with the saffron party. However, the Lingayat-led BJP’s efforts to dislodge a Gowda has not gone down well with him, says a source.
Yeddyurappa has tasked a Vokkaliga MLA from Bengaluru, Dr. CN Ashwathanarayana, with poaching Congress and JDS MLAs to unseat Kumaraswamy. A fellow Vokkaliga MLA taking the lead has angered the caste leaders and some claim that the seer has warned him against such “betrayal”.
The BJP has won a considerable number of seats from old Mysore region in the last Assembly elections and these MLAs are also worried about the backlash. The BJP won 11 seats from Bengaluru city with the as the JDS allegedly transferred a major chunk of Vokkaliga votes to them.
“It seems the ‘operation Kamala’ is dividing the state on caste lines once again. Yeddyurappa played ‘betrayal by the Vokkaligas’ card to the hilt in 2008. Now he is trying to settle score with us by unseating Kumaraswamy. We are not keeping quiet. We will definitely make it a caste issue. The BJP calls Gowdas anti-Lingayats. Why can’t we call them anti-Vokkaligas?” asked a JDS leader from Bengaluru.
The Congress is also planning to use a “Dalit” card to put the BJP on the mat. The deputy chief minister Dr. G Parameshwara is a Dalit and toppling the government will deny power to a Dalit leader is their argument.
Since all BJP MLAs and other leaders are holed up at a luxury resort in Gurgaon near Delhi, no one was available for a comment.
The political analysts feel that current crisis will definitely deepen the rivalry and distrust between Lingayats and Vokkaligas who always fight for political supremacy in the state.