In a blow to BJP, Lingayat seer enters political fray in Dharwad Lok Sabha seat

Fakir Dingaleshwar says he is contesting only to ensure the defeat of BJP’s Brahmin candidate Pralhad Joshi. 

Published : Apr 09, 2024 20:11 IST - 4 MINS READ

Fakir Dingaleshwar swami addresses a press conference in Hubballi April 7, 2024 .

Fakir Dingaleshwar swami addresses a press conference in Hubballi April 7, 2024 . | Photo Credit: KIRAN BAKALE

In contrast to instances in northern and central India where religious figures like Yogi Adityanath (Ajay Bisht), Pragya Singh Thakur, and Mahant Balaknath Yogi have directly entered politics, religious leaders in Karnataka have traditionally preferred to wield influence from behind the scenes. They ensure that the interests of their caste or community are not overlooked by whichever party holds power in the State. Breaking from this tradition, Fakir Dingaleshwar, the Lingayat seer of the Bhavaikyatha Mahasamsthana mutt located in Shirahatti, Gadag district, has announced that he will throw his hat into the ring for the Dharwad Lok Sabha seat as an independent candidate.

Until Dingaleshwar’s entry, the contest for the Dharwad seat was restricted to a direct fight between Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Pralhad Joshi of the BJP and Vinod Asuti from the Congress. Joshi, a Brahmin, is a four-time Parliamentarian representing Dharwad in the Lok Sabha, while Asuti, a young leader, belongs to the Kuruba community. Even before Joshi’s renomination was confirmed, Dingaleshwar, along with his fellow pontiffs, made a powerful appeal to the BJP leadership to not choose Joshi as its candidate. However, with the BJP formally announcing Joshi’s candidature, Dingaleshwar also followed suit, announcing that he was contesting only to ensure the defeat of Joshi.

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Speaking at a press conference in Bengaluru on April 8, Dingaleshwar accused Joshi of practising “vindictive politics”. He added: “It is because of Joshi that Veerashaiva Lingayat, Kuruba, and Dalit leaders have been overwhelmed in psychological and financial terms. The national leadership of the BJP is not paying attention to his maladministration. It seems that they chose him for that reason. Therefore, I must enter politics, and this is my fight for self-respect against two national parties.” While Dingaleshwar made this announcement, he was surrounded by other Lingayat pontiffs belonging to the powerful Lingayat representative body known as the All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha.

Dingaleshwar remained immune to pleas made by two former Chief Ministers of the BJP, B. S. Yediyurappa and Jagadish Shettar, who are also prominent Lingayat leaders of the party, even as he pitched himself as a Lingayat candidate. “Both the national parties [BJP and Congress] have done injustice to the Lingayats. The BJP has chosen a Brahmin in Dharwad where Lingayats are in the majority. By the same logic, why couldn’t the BJP have chosen a Lingayat candidate such as V. Somanna in Bengaluru South where their candidate is Tejaswi Surya (a Brahmin)?” he said.

Advantage Congress

Political analysts feel the entry of Dingaleshwar will boost the Congress’ chances here as the Lingayat vote, which usually favours the BJP, may now be split between Joshi and Dingaleshwar. It is estimated that there are close to seven lakh Lingayat voters in the Dharwad Lok Sabha constituency followed by around four lakh Muslim voters and three lakh Kurubas. Brahmins number less than a lakh in the constituency.

Congress leader and Labour Minister, Santosh Lad, whose Legislative Assembly constituency is part of the Dharwad Lok Sabha constituency, has been tasked with ensuring the defeat of Joshi. Speaking to presspersons, Lad said, “Swami Dingaleshwar is not restricted just to one community. It is not possible to say who will gain or lose by his entry. He is a good orator. If he remains in the fray, we will take his blessing and continue the fight.”

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Declining to comment directly on Dingaleshwar’s candidature, Joshi said, “The election will not be fought on the basis of caste but on national issues and the development that has been done under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi”. In the past four elections, Joshi, despite being a Brahmin, secured more than 50 per cent of the vote each time, ensuring comfortable victories for the BJP. Even in the heyday of the Congress which won this seat continuously between 1952 and 1991, non-Lingayats were elected from here.

Rajashekhar Hatgundi, a political columnist with Kannada newspaper Varta Bharati, said, “Ideally, this constituency should elect a Lingayat because of their overwhelming majority, but voters in this constituency have not paid attention to this aspect but have focused on national issues.” Between 1952 and 1980, according to Hatgundi, two Brahmin candidates won from here, while the same Kuruba candidate won the election four times in a row between 1980 and 1996. “Again, Pralhad Joshi won from here between 2004 and 2019.” A BJP Lingayat candidate, Vijay Sankeshwar, won thrice between 1996 and 1999, but by this time, caste played a limited role as voters in Dharwad were already influenced by issues such as Hindutva and nationalism that were being forefronted by the BJP, added Hatgundi.

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