In a bid to woo two of Karnataka’s largest communities — the Lingayats and Vokkaligas — the Basavaraj Bommai government is all set to unveil the statues of social reformer and philosopher Basavanna and Nadaprabhu Kempegowda on November 1, also celebrated as Karnataka Rajyotsava (statehood) day. The statues will be placed inside the premises of the Vidhana Soudha, the state’s seat of governance.
A government order issued recently mentions that the statues have to be ready to be unveiled on November 1. The statues are approximately 14-feet tall, just like the other statues within the Vidhana Soudha premises that include those of Dr BR Ambedkar, Kengal Hanumanthaiah, Mahatma Gandhi, and Jawaharlal Nehru, among others.
Though leaders in the BJP say that the statues are being installed to highlight their teachings and contribution to Karnataka, one cannot turn away from the fact that both Basavanna and Kempegowda are followed by the Lingayats and Vokkaligas, respectively.
Of the 24 chief ministers that Karnataka has had, nine are from the Lingayat community, seven from the Vokkaliga community, 6 from the OBCs, and two Brahmins. This explains the importance of the BJP government’s move to install the statues of the founder of Lingayatism — Basavanna and the founder of Bengaluru city Kempegowda.
Political commentator Sandeep Shastri calls this “symbolism politics”. In his opinion, the statues focus on a whole new narrative of redefining what constitutes our space for central heroes.
Shastri feels that though we have been adept in projecting symbols and hope that they will transform themselves into support for what they represent.
“Past experience has shown that mere presence or projection of a symbol does not help. People are looking to see how these symbols translate into reality in terms of action,” he explains. “While symbolism has its benefits in terms of visibility space you provide, I think, the visibility space has a very short-term memory and people look for what they represent.”
Lingayats are Karnataka’s single largest community and comprise close to 17 per cent of the voting population. They follow Lingayatism — a Hindu Shaivite religion that deifies Basavanna, a 12th-century poet, social reformer, and saint who fought against the caste system, gender disparity, and superstitious rituals. Those who follow Basavanna or Basaveshwara’s Lingayatism are called Lingayats and they are found largely in the northern region of Karnataka.
The community is known to firmly support the BJP and holds influence over 100 assembly constituencies of the total 224 in Karnataka. Among the four chief ministers that the BJP has had in Karnataka, three — BS Yediyurappa, Jagdish Shettar, and present CM Basavaraj Bommai— belong to the Lingayat community.
Coming a close second in terms of political influence, the Vokkaligas form about 5 per cent of the state’s voting population. Nadaprabhu Kempegowda belongs to the dominant agricultural Vokkaliga community, largely found around south Karnataka, and is credited to be the founder of modern-day Bengaluru.
A 16th-century chieftain in the Vijayanagara empire, Kempegowda is said to have dreamt of building a city during a hunting expedition near Shivanasamudra (modern-day Hesaraghatta). Several landmarks including the international airport, bus station, and metro station have been named after him, marking his unbeatable contribution to building one of India’s top cities.
The Vokkaliga belt is said to spread over 12 districts covering 87 assembly constituencies and plays a decisive role during elections, especially in the Old Mysuru region. The BJP has been for some time now trying to expand its footprint in the Vokkaliga region and winning a significant number of seats in their stronghold would help the party win comfortably in the state. However, the party has had just one Vokkaliga chief minister, Sadananda Gowda, to date.
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