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Why has B.S. Yeddyurappa decided to contest assembly elections from North Karnataka?

LiveMint logoLiveMint 19-09-2017 Sharan Poovanna

Bengaluru: Former Karnataka chief minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader B.S.Yeddyurappa’s Monday announcement that he will contest next year’s assembly election from North Karnataka is aimed at getting the influential Lingayat community to support the party.

Yeddyurappa, who normally contests from Shikaripura (Shimoga) in central Karnataka, is likely to fight the 2018 assembly elections from Bagalkot or Vijayapura (formerly Bijapur), PTI reported on Monday.

The Lingayat, a sect whose followers worship Shiva, are believed to account for almost 17% of the state’s population and mostly live in northern Karnataka, making up a sizeable chunk of votes during elections.

The community was in the news since early this year after the Congress party, led by water resources minister M.B.Patil, a Lingayat, reignited a demand for separate minority religion status for the community and break away from its sub-sect, the Veerashaivas. This would eat into one of the biggest support bases for the BJP. Yeddyurappa—considered one of the biggest political leaders of the community—has been silent on the issue.

“The Lingayat community support is something that has been with the BJP. Even in the last election (2013), its votes got split between KJP (Karnataka Janata Party) and the BJP. The Lingayat vote did not necessarily go to the Congress party the last time they came to power,” professor Sandeep Shastry, political scientist and pro vice-chancellor at Jain University, said.

Yeddyurappa broke away from the BJP just before the 2013 elections and successfully contested as a KJP candidate. Yeddyurappa returned to the BJP after the KJP was able to win only six seats compared to 40 by the BJP.

Harish Ramaswamy, political analyst and professor at the Karnatak University, Dharwad, said Yeddyurappa’s confidence stems from the fact that the Lingayats have rarely supported anyone other than the BJP. The party has, in recent months, also tried to expand its support base to Dalits and Other Backward Classes, whose support (at least in 2013) remained largely with chief minister Siddaramaiah and his AHINDA (Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits) style of politics.

The BJP central leadership named Yeddyurappa as its chief ministerial candidate for 2018 largely due to the support he commands within the Lingayat community—a reason why they were willing to overlook his age, which goes against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “no administrative positions beyond 75” rule.

However, Shastry also believes that Yeddyurappa could have been persuaded by the central leadership to contest from North Karnataka as the 74-year-old’s working style has been the cause of factionalism within the party, including a fallout with senior leader K.S. Eshwarappa.

North Karnataka—one of the most backward regions in the country—has long nursed a feeling of neglect and has been miffed with both the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) for focusing on the southern parts, considered more prosperous.

The Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) have focused their energies on southern Karnataka (Cauvery river belt) over the years where the BJP has little or no presence at all.

“Since 1983, any party which has come to power has come to power on the basis of its support it has received in North Karnataka,” Shastry said.

Yeddyurappa has also said that he would be able to solve the Mahadayi (also known as Mandovi) river issue which would supply much-needed drinking water to the northern part of the state, the second most arid region in India after Rajasthan. Goa and Karnataka have been unable to resolve the contentious issue and Yeddyurappa may fancy his chances as the BJP is in power in the neighbouring state.

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