The political narratives of state level leaders who are campaigning and contesting the Karnataka legislative assembly elections this time have not yet risen above vibhuti (sacred ash), gandha (sandal paste) and kumkuma (vermilion).
In addition, prime political players of all three parties have been caught indulging in caste politics. And, indeed Chief Minister Siddaramaiah will go down in the history of Karnataka politics as one of the masters of caste politics.
Water Resources Minister MB Patil, for the last some months focused more on distributing 'vibhuti' than water in drought-prone districts of North Karnataka. He had spearheaded a sort of movement to get minority tag to Lingayats. He succeeded in getting a government notification issued in this regard. But as a contestant, this seasoned politician is not finding the going easy in Babaleshwara.
Will the 'split exercise' of Siddaramaiah & Co to make BS Yeddyurappa, the Lingayat strongman and BJP state president, weak help?
The poll results may reflect it to certain extent. Definitely, Siddaramaiah has taken a calculated risk in trying dividing the community and thus reducing the strength of Hindus.
The chief minister, under the banner of social engineering, bestowed many bhagyas, mainly for the weaker sections of society. Going by the publicity for these schemes, one gets an impression that these schemes have touched the hearts of the beneficiaries.
But Indian elections are not that simple. Siddaramaiah is finally caught in the caste cauldron and contesting from Badami too, where Kurubas are large in numbers. He is doing his best to play his caste card here.
He attended one of his community meetings sporting a yellow headgear and accepting a goat as gift. The same Siddaramaiah had avoided accepting a yellow headgear, a symbolic of his community, at a function held at Banquet Hall of Vidhana Soudha some years ago!
Siddaramaiah jumped to Badami from Chamundeshwari as he could understand that the HD Deve Gowda clan is working overtime to make his victory a challenge.
JD(S) candidate G T Deve Gowda, the sitting MLA here, is popular among the voters. In this Vokkaliga dominated constituency, the consolidation of Vokkaliga votes has reached a decisive level. Such a development would have a cascading effect on the constituencies in the old Mysore region.
Film actor Darshan, who tried to campaign for Siddaramaiah, had to face the wrath of aggressive Vokkaliga youths. It is not the bhagyas but the caste which has set a tune for the poll battle here.
Sporting kumkuma liberally on the forehead and accepting mangalarathi in temples in Mysuru has not made the task easier for him. It is to be seen whether his mere presence as the chief minister itself can be an attraction for voters.
The JD(S), a regional party identified mainly with Vokkaligas, is shriller than it's the rivals when it comes to openly talking about caste polarization, while the rivals are doing it in a concealed manner.
In case of the BJP, as in the past, it has well mixed decoction of religion and caste. And, of course, it has no hesitation to do either of these. The very decision of projecting Ballari MP B Sriramulu as one of the prime leaders is based on the caste. He is popular among his community, Valmikis (STs). The BJP has realized that it has to appease Dalits to get an edge over its rivals.
When the BJP was preparing the ground for the polls, it wasn't wary of the choice of Lingayats this time. Hence, it gave prominence to Sriramulu and fielded him from two constituencies – Molakalmuru and Badami.
The party has not been articulate when it comes to defending his candidature as he belongs to the collapsed illegal mining Reddy coterie. In Molakalmuru, his entry into the fray was welcomed by hurling chappals and stones with the sitting MLA S Thippeswamy missing the ticket. But the dust has settled and Sriramulu is the man of the moment.
Stars and caste
When film actor Sudeep reportedly wanted to campaign for Siddaramaiah in Badami, a caste group working for Sriramulu openly opposed it. They said the actor, who also belongs to Sriramulu's caste, should not be helping Siddaramaiah.
Sriramulu has the possibility of becoming deputy CM and hence, his community should support him, was the argument. Sriramulu himself said he expected Sudeep to campaign for him. Sudeep finally tweeted saying he had no plans to campaign for the chief minister, and Sriramulu was his good friend.
There is one more popular actor who is selectively campaigning for his community candidates. For the record: top film personalities, by and large, take huge sums for conducting road shows as part of the campaign. It can range from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 2 crore or more. Sometimes, they do it free of cost because of their proximity to politicians. But film stars' campaign itself has lost novelty in Karnataka.
For the JD(S), one prime strength is Vokkaliga voters, who are supposed to constitute about 15 to 16% of the total voters. The second factor is its state president H D Kumaraswamy enjoys considerable popularity among the community as well as rural youths. Of course, the pillar of strength is former prime minister H D Deve Gowda, the Vokkaligas' pride.
The party has tied-up with non-Karnataka parties – National Congress Party, Bahujan Samaja Party and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen. The BSP has fielded 14 candidates. This exercise is nothing but the so-called secular party's efforts to consolidate votes of minorities.
A point to be observed that Yeddyurappa, despite being the face of Lingayats (undivided), maintained silence regarding the minority status to the community. The BJP had realized that it is a sensitive subject to handle.
Yeddyurappa had once endorsed that he would go by the Veerashaiva Mahasabha's decision. The decision at that time was to demand minority status to Lingayats. But later it reversed the decision. The BJP thinks it is playing safe by not being vocal on this issue. And Veerashaiva-Lingayats, who form about 17% of the total voters, would give an 'apt reply' to the Congress, the BJP believes.
One thing is clear – political parties and players will continue to play religion and caste cards. Only voters would have to rise above these petty considerations to select their leaders.