Will Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Lingayat mutts help Congress in Karnataka elections?

Bengaluru: Congress president Rahul Gandhi is set to kickstart the party’s election campaign in Karnataka with a tour of at least four districts in the Hyderabad-Karnataka region, home to some of the most backward and arid regions of the country.

Gandhi’s four-day tour, starting 10 February, will include visits to religious places like Huligemma Temple, the Gavi Siddeshwara Mutt, Anubhava Mantapa (a religious parliament started by 12th century reformer Basavanna) and Khwaja Bande Nawaz Dargah as well as interactions with local Congress leaders, farmers and business communities.

Criticised by secular sections for his temple visits during the recently concluded Gujarat elections, Gandhi’s itinerary in Karnataka continues to build on the Congress’s attempt to challenge the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) claim that it is a party that favours minorities at the cost of the Hindu majority.

However, the visits to Gavi Siddeshwara Mutt and Anubhava Mantapa—both related to the Lingayat community—are being seen as a bid to tap seek the votes of a religious community that has largely sided with the BJP and its leader B.S.Yeddyurappa.

The Congress party had reignited a century-old demand for a separate religion status for the Lingayat in order to fragment the BJP’s support in the community, believed to be the largest in Karnataka.

Though the Congress is spearheading the movement, many senior leaders within the party have either refrained from being associated with the demand or gone against it.

A. Narayana, associate professor of public policy at Azim Premji University in Bengaluru, said the community has a strong presence in north Karnataka and the Congress will try to capitalise on this. “It is an effort to consolidate this effort,” Narayana said, referring to the movement for separate religion status that is led by water resources minister M.B.Patil.

The three major political parties of Karnataka—Congress, BJP and Janata Dal (Secular)—have left little to chance when it comes to impressing upon communities and spiritual leaders, some of whom have the power to influence voters, to muster support in the upcoming assembly elections.

BJP national president Amit Shah, in August last year, visited Adichunchanagiri Mutt, a spiritual place for the dominant Vokkaliga community, in Mandya district.

Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah, not known to be religious, has started speaking of his Hindu identity, as have several other senior Congress leaders. But they draw a distinction between their Hinduism and the BJP’s Hindutva.

“In order to counter the BJP’s version of Hindutva—the campaign that Congress is anti-Hindu, trying to break Hinduism etc—the Congress will have to adopt some form of pro-Hindu stand,” Narayana said.livemint