Karnataka assembly polls are like make or break situation for the Congress party. It is one of those few big states it is governing. Owing to rampant anti-incumbency and a lackluster leadership, the state may be slipping from the hands of the Congress. Rahul Gandhi’s campaign in Gujarat was filled with temple visits which is said to be attributed to its good performance in the elections. The Congress now is in process to apply a similar form of soft Hindutva to its electoral campaign in Karnataka and the Gandhi scion is gearing up for the same.
It’s important to note that caste mathematics is unfortunately the foundation of Indian politics. Caste combinations have given mandates and handed over drubbings to political parties. In 2000s, Mayawati and BSP did a much-discussed social engineering in UP which brought together Yadavs and Dalits along with Muslims. This took away many Hindu votes from parties like the BJP and the so called secular appeal remained intact. A similar tactic was perhaps applied during Bihar elections which included caste calculations owing to grand coalition.
The same caste factor has lot of effect on Karnataka polity. The Lingayat community is one the most important sub castes in the state. Lingayats today are found mostly in the state of Karnataka, especially in north and Central regions and comprise 20% of Karnataka’s population.
Rahul Gandhi, emboldened with his experiment of soft Hindutva is keen to replicate it here. This will serve two purposes. Firstly, this stance will give Congress a subtle outreach to the Hindus and secondly, it will also safeguard their so called secular image. And when it comes to the traditional Hindu vote, their focus primarily will be on the Lingayat community.
Their strategy now seems clearer if we check Rahul Gandhi’s campaign trail in Karnataka. Rahul Gandhi is scheduled to visit the state from February tenth to thirteenth and is going to visit a temple, two Lingayat mutts and a Dargah. The Congress party has denied it as soft Hindutva and has termed it as inclusive Hindutva. But no one can deny the desperate attempts by the Congress to play the caste and religion factor in Karnataka. It is important to note that Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has already decided to endorse the demand for a separate religion for Lingayat community.
Firstly, it’s important to note that BJP CM in waiting BS Yeddyruppa too is from the same Lingayat community. Hence the Congress party will try to ensure that they would woo them in order to cut into BJP votes. BJPs internal turmoil in the previous election and Yeddyruppa stepping out had cost them dearly. His coming back into the party fold has certainly strengthened the BJP and the only way for the Congress is to try and garner votes from Lingayat community.
Rahul Gandhi’s outreach to Lingayat caste will be accompanied by their appeasement towards Muslims to maintain secular image. Withdrawal of communal violence cases against minorities by the CM can be cited as an example.
Secondly, there are other factors which may go against the Congress. Strong anti-incumbency coupled with serious allegations of corruption charges will be very difficult for the party to defend. CM Siddaramaiah already has offered a lot of SOPs and this is certainly implemented to divert attention from the weight of this combination. There are other serious law and order issues. The unsolved murder of Gauri Lankesh or the deaths of RSS workers may have an impact in the polls. The Congress party wants to try Gujarat temple run in hope of repeating the pattern here in order to dissolve and dilute such contentious governance issues.
It’s important to note that this mix of soft Hindutva and minority appeasement is going to be the theme of Rahul Gandhi and the Congress Party in general, in Karnataka. The BJP needs to focus on the former and up its ante in order to defeat the Congress strategy. It’s high time BJP enforces its own plan to defeat Rahul Gandhi’s temple run. It itself needs to resort to a combination of counter Hindutva mixed with development which can play a key role in giving BJP its lost bastion again in the south.