Lingayats hold key as BJP-Cong set for poll face-off in Kittur Karnataka region

Lingayats hold key as BJP-Cong set for poll face-off in Kittur Karnataka region


With each political party having a distinct area of influence in various regions of the state, it is key to understand the “micro picture” in every such part, as Karnataka heads for Assembly polls on May 10. Kittur Karnataka (earlier known as Mumbai/ Bombay Karnataka region) sends 50 MLAs to the Legislative Assembly. Comprising seven districts- Belagavi, Dharwad, Vijayapura, Haveri, Gadag, Bagalkote and Uttara Kannada- it’s a direct fight between the ruling BJP and the Congress in this region, where the Janata Dal (Secular) is considerably weak.

File photo of former Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah meeting the Lingayat community Seers at Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru.(PTI Photo)
File photo of former Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah meeting the Lingayat community Seers at Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru.(PTI Photo)

The state government decided in 2021 to rechristen the region that was under the erstwhile Bombay presidency, before Independence, as ‘Kittur Karnataka’ from ‘Mumbai-Karnataka.’ The name Kittur is after a historical taluk in Belagavi district that was ruled by Rani Chennamma (1778–1829), who had fought the British before Jhansi Rani Laxmibai did. Predominantly a Lingayat dominated region (other than Uttara Kannada district), it is the home turf of several senior political leaders including Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai.

BJP had won 30 of the total 50 seats in the region in the 2018 Assembly polls, followed by Congress 17, JD(S) 2, and others (KPJP-Shankar) 1. Backed by the politically-influential Lingayat community, the BJP is a dominant force in the region, where the Congress had once held sway. The Congress lost the region to the saffron party in the elections in the 1990s, following the sacking of its then Chief Minister Veerendra Patil, a Lingayat, who was recouping from a stroke, by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, which turned the community against the party.

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Thereafter, as the dominant community started rallying behind another Lingayat stalwart BJP’s B S Yediyurappa, the region slowly turned into a stronghold of the saffron party for more than a decade till 2013. However, Congress made a comeback in the region in 2013, by winning 31 of the 50 seats. Along with the anti-incumbency against the then BJP government, a split in the saffron party with Yediyurappa breaking away and floating the Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP) had helped the grand old party to bounce back.

Later, with Yediyurappa returning to the party ahead of 2014 Lok Sabha polls under Narendra Modi’s leadership, and KJP back into BJP’s fold, the Congress failed to repeat the performance in the 2018 elections, thereby paving the way for the BJP to regain lost ground in the region. Lingayat religion movement not working in Congress’ favour, was also one of the major factors for Congress witnessing a dip in its electoral fortunes in Kittur Karnataka in 2018, despite the then Chief Minister Siddaramaiah himself contesting from the region’s Badami segment.

Along with the Congress facing losses in the Lingayat-dominated belt, most of its leaders who were actively involved in the ‘separate Lingayat religion’ movement suffered defeat. With Yediyurappa retiring from electoral politics, the Congress is now trying to woo Lingayats back into the party fold, and aimed at countering this, the BJP is falling back on the octogenarian leader, as its poll mascot. Implications of the BJP government’s decision to hike Lingayat reservation by two per cent, just ahead of the polls need to be watched out, as certain groups within the community were looking at a much higher quota. Along with SCs, STs, and OBCs, Muslims too are politically significant in some segments of Kittur Karnataka.

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Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah have held massive public meetings and mega roadshows in parts of the region like Dharwad and Belagavi in view of the importance of this belt in garnering votes in favour of the BJP. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has held a “Yuva Kranti Samavesha”, a youth convention, organised by the party’s state unit, at Belagavi last month. After Bengaluru Urban with 27 Assembly segments (28 including Anekal), Kittur Karnataka region’s Belagavi is the second biggest district in the State with 18 seats.


Along with being a numerically large district, it is also politically significant. In 2018, BJP had won 10 seats and Congress eight in Belagavi. Home to influential political families in both parties, the majority of the elected representatives from the district are sugar barons with a background in sugar cooperatives like-Jarkiholis, Jolles, Kattis. Among the candidates to be watched out from Belagavi district are, Jarkiholi brothers, who are split between the two national parties- Ramesh Jarkiholi, who played a key role in installing BJP government by leading defection of 17 Congress-JD(S) MLAs, and Satish Jarkiholi, who is Congress’ Working President.

Also, Congress’ Laxmi Hebbalkar, who is seen as a bitter opponent of Ramesh Jarkiholi. The Congress with a plan to make further gains in this crucial district had started its state-wide ‘Praja Dwani Yatre’ from Belagavi. On the other hand, the BJP has faced setbacks with the untimely deaths of Hukkeri MLA Umesh Katti and Saundatti MLA Anand Mamani, and will have to find new candidates in these constituencies. Also ticket fight within BJP in the district, especially for Athani between senior leader Laxman Savadi and Jarkiholi-led group has become a cause of concern for the party.

Haveri district in the region with six Assembly segments, is also crucial for the BJP, as Chief Minister Bommai’s constituency Shiggavi comes under it. Congress had caused an embarrassment to the BJP by wresting Hanagal, the neighbouring constituency of the CM, from it, in the 2021 bypolls. Congress in upcoming polls too, hopes to dent the ruling party’s prospects and cause it a huge embarrassment in Bommai’s backyard. Badami in Bagalkote district, which senior Congress leader Siddaramaiah currently represents, is also among the key constituencies in this election.

The former Chief Minister has decided not to contest from Badami this time, citing its long distance from state capital Bengaluru and his inability to make himself available to the people there on a day-to-day basis as the reason. He has been fielded from his home turf of Varuna for the upcoming polls, and is also looking for Kolar as the second seat. BJP had won five out of seven seats in Bagalkote district in 2018 polls, Congress in two.

Bijapur City, one among the eight Assembly segments in Vijayapura district is also significant as senior BJP leader Basanagouda Patil Yatnal is likely to contest from the seat once again. The firebrand Hindutva proponent, who was an open critique of state BJP strongman Yediyurappa, has several times in the past has expressed his Chief Ministerial ambitions. Increasing tally in Gadag is important for Congress as it has only one MLA, AICC member H K Patil from the district, which has four Assembly segments.

Dharwad district, the social, cultural and commercial hub of Kittur Karnataka with seven seats, is significant as it is the Parliamentary constituency of Union Minister Pralhad Joshi, who is considered to be close to both Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. Former Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar represents Hubli-Dharwad-Central segment from the district. In Uttara Kannada district with six seats, veteran Congress leader 76-year old R V Deshpande is the only Congress MLA.

He is contesting from Haliyal segment. Consisting of both coastal and Western ghats, the district has become the stronghold of BJP. The Sirsi segment here is represented by Legislative Assembly Speaker Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri. He is likely to get a ticket from BJP once again. While the BJP is doing all that it can to continue its hold and improve its tally on this belt, the Congress is making a concerted effort to regain political ground in the region.


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Sagar Biswas

Sagar Biswas

A full-time blogger who shares his point of view on a different social issue that needs to be addressed, He completed his bachelor's degree in commerce stream and likes to make the podcast

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