The stepping down of BS Yediyurappa as the Chief Minister cost the BJP dear in the Karnataka assembly election in terms of Lingayat vote. Club it with the refusal of ticket to former Chief Minister Jagdish Shettar and Laxman Savadi, the state's former Deputy Chief Minister, and it is a formula for failure in a chunk of seats where the Lingayat vote is decisive.
Lingayats account for 17 per cent of Karnataka's population and can potentially swing outcomes in around 80 seats. Of these, the Congress won 53 seats, the BJP 20. Overall, the Congress won 135 of the 224 assembly seats. Its ally, Sarvodaya Karnataka Paksha, won one seat.
Ironically, it is the Lingayat support that enabled the BJP to make inroads into the only southern state where they have a presence. The community, initially supporters of the Congress, shifted their loyalty to the BJP in the '80s after former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi abruptly sacked Lingayat Chief Minister Veerendra Patil.
Today, they are the state's single largest community and comprise nearly 17 per cent of the population, which makes their support crucial for victory.
Asked about the matter, senior Congress leaders pointed out that the community was hugely upset when Mr Yediyurappa was forced to step down in July 2021 during his fourth term, following a string of corruption allegations against him. The 77-year-old was the tallest leader of the community, which saw the party's move as a significant slight.
The installation of Basavaraj Bommai -- a supporter of Mr Yediyurappa -- did not mend the breach. A group of 500 powerful Lingayat sadhus had gathered to protest and one of them had warned at the time that the damage will be "irreparable".
Later, a Lingayat seer's complaint that even mutts are having to pay a 30 per cent commission to the government, had further eroded the BJP's standing among the community.
In the run-up to the polls came the next shock -- refusal of ticket to Jagdish Shettar, a former Chief Minister of the state and Mr Savadi, a former Deputy Chief Minister. It was enough to alienate the politically crucial community, which has given the state nine Chief Ministers.
The anger went too deep for a salve of extra reservation in jobs and education to heal.
In March, the ruling BJP had scrapped the four per cent Other Backward Classes reservation for Muslims and parcelled it out between the Lingayats, Vokkaligas and Scheduled Castes and Tribes. The Lingayats had got the biggest chunk – 7 per cent – in an effort to draw the community's support.