When the Janata Dal-Secular ditched the Bharatiya Janata Party and refused to hand over power, not only did the BJP cry foul but also termed it as an insult to B S Yeddyurappa who was termed as a champion of the Lingayat community. Both the parties fought the elections on the caste card with the BJP relying on the Lingayat votes and the JD-S on the votes of the Vokkaligas.
A considerable amount of time has passed and the issue was forgotten until the election process for the general elections were announced. Has the Bharatiya Janata Party forgotten about the caste factor? Standing at the Tumkur constituency which is a stong hold of the Lingayat belt one is reminded yet again of the caste games.
The BJP is banking heavily on the Tumkur Parliamentary constituency in Karnataka thanks to the large number of Lingayat voters. While there are 3.5 lakh Lingayats, the number of Vokkaligas voters is 3 lakh. The remaining 7.5 lakh voters comprise OBCs and minorities.
Right from day one, the BJP was confident of taking this constituency on the caste vote. However now things seem to have tilted slightly against the BJP with Gourishankar Swamy of the Samajwadi Party deciding to contest the elections. Gowrishankar Swamy was part of the very powerful and popular Siddaganga Mutt until there were certain legal issues which forced him to part ways with the mutt. This Lingayat leader who had gained immense popularity in Tumkur especially among the Lingayats is the man who political observers say will spoil the BJP's party.
While the Congress has fielded a candidate by the name P Kodandaramaiah, who is an OBC, the BJP and the JD-S have fielded a Lingayat and a Vokkaliga respectively. The caste equation is clear and both Yeddyurappa and Deve Gowda have been showing a special interest in this constituency.
The campaign styles of the BJP and the JD-S are a reminder of the Karnataka elections with both parties projecting themselves as the champions of the Lingayats and the Vokkaligas. The BJP has fielded, G S Basavaraj, a Lingayat leader while the JD-S has fielded Muddahanume Gowda, a Vokkaliga.
A loss in Tumkur would hurt the BJP the most. First and foremost it has to defend its seat in Tumkur. Secondly it would have to deal with infighting within the party and also the candidature of Gowri Shankar Swamy of the SP who is threatening to eat heavily into the vote share of the BJP.
The infighting too has not gone down too well with the BJP ever since it denied a ticket to its sitting MP from Tumkur, S Mallikarjunaiah. His followers do not seem to be cooperating with Basavaraj. The sitting MP has refused to take part in the BJP campaign and also embarrassed CM B S Yeddyurappa in public, over the distribution of tickets.
Despite all these problems the BJP seems to be confident. Star campaigners like Yeddyurappa and other senior leaders keep frequenting this constituency to woo voters. For the BJP it is extremely important for it to retain Tumkur if it wants to continue calling itself as a champion of the Lingayats thanks to the large population of the Lingayats.