Cong looks to win over Lingayats on Rahul's shoulders

Cong looks to win over Lingayats on Rahul's shoulders

Cong looks to win over Lingayats on Rahul's shoulders

From reciting tongue-twisting vachanas of Basavanna to visiting prominent mutts, Congress president Rahul Gandhi had his task cut out during his recent north Karnataka tour - wooing the dominant Lingayat community that has traditionally voted for the BJP, particularly since the 1994 Assembly elections.

Almost in every public speech Rahul made during his Hyderabad-Karnataka tour (February 10-13) and Mumbai-Karnataka tour (February 24-26), he invoked Basavanna - the 12th century social reformer credited as the founder of the Lingayat faith. In fact, a video of him reciting Ivanaarava...Ivanammava has gone viral. Going by crowd response, Rahul managed to drive the message home despite mispronunciation.  

"It was a clear attempt to isolate B S Yeddyurappa, who is the only Lingayat face of the BJP," political analyst Harish Ramaswamy said. The Lingayat community, he pointed out, veered away from the Congress after the death of former chief minister Veerendra Patil. "However, the tacit support of the Congress  to the  movement demanding a separate Lingayat religion has disturbed the BJP's support base, because the BJP has not taken a stand on the issue."

Kayakave Kailasa  (work is worship) and Nudidante Nade  (walk the talk) were some of the Basavanna's vachanas that Rahul invoked during his attacks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. And he did more than that. Rahul visited the influential Lingayat religious centres - Gavimutt in Koppal, Sharana Basaveshwara Temple in Kalaburagi, the Murugha Mutt in Dharwad and the Anubhava Mantapa at Basavakalyan in Bidar. "What Rahul tried to do was hit two birds with one stone," said A Narayana, who teaches politics and public policy at Azim Premji University. "Basavanna's appeal is beyond Lingayats. Even Dalits and OBCs, who form the Congress' core constituency, identify with Basavanna."

The Hyderabad-Karnataka and Mumbai-Karnataka regions comprise 96 out of 224 Assembly segments in the state. Although a BJP bastion, the Congress did well here in the 2013 polls owing to Yeddyurappa forming his own party that ended up splitting the BJP's votes.

According to Narayana, invoking Basavanna is in line with the Congress' new approach towards Hindutva. "The party seems to want to steer clear of its pro-Muslim image and champion the cause of inclusive Hindutva. Rahul also played safe by directly reaching out to Lingayats, because the BJP has accused his party of trying to divide the community through the separate religion movement," Narayana said. Even Modi has taken to Basavanna of late - he hailed the Anubhava Mantapa in Parliament recently - as both parties look to woo his followers ahead of the polls.

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