Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa in an attempt to  re-assert his status as the Lingayat strongman, ticked off a sub-sect seer for ‘blackmailing’ him to make three of their community legislators ministers in the upcoming cabinet expansion, a party official said on Wednesday.

BJP’s party spokesman G Madhusudana quoted news agency IANS as saying, “The Chief Minister threatened to walk out of the public meeting when Veerashaiva Lingayat Panchamasali seer Swami Vachananda urged him to make three of the community legislators ministers in the second cabinet expansion.”

The public spat occurred on Tuesday at Harihar in Davangere district in the state’s northwest region when 35-year-old Vachananda warned the 76-year-old Yediyurappa that the powerful Lingayat community would boycott him and not vote for the ruling BJP in the next Assembly election.

The Chief Minister shot back, “You cannot threaten me saying your sub-sect (Veera Shaiva) community would not support the BJP in the next Assembly or Lok Saba elections, due in 2023 and 2024.”

Harihar is about 300 km northwest of the southern state’s capital Bengaluru.

Of the five legislators belonging to the Lingayat sect, the seer recommended to the Chief Minister the induction of BJP’s Nippani legislator and former minister Murgesh Nirani, failing which the community would withdraw its support to the ruling party.

“A shocked Yediyurappa told the seer that he could suggest any one for consideration in the ministry but cannot blackmail him by saying the sub-sect followers would not vote for the BJP in the next election,” an official said.

The Chief Minister is waiting for party national president Amit Shah’s approval to expand his over 5-month-old government for the second time after the December 5 by-elections, in which the BJP won 12 of the 15 seats.

“Religious leaders should not interfere in political matters, that too in public or blackmail a state chief minister to meet their demands at a community forum like the Panchamasali Samaj Guru Peetha,” reiterated Madhusudhana.

As the largest community (17-18 per cent) in the southern state, the Lingayats are politically strong and their voters can decide the fortunes of many candidates at the hustings.

Nirani and others, who were present on the dais, persuaded Yediyurappa to take his seat and requested the seer to avoid making a political speech on such occasions,

“The Chief Minister threatened to resign than succumb to pressures from religious or community followers.”

On August 21, 2019, 16 legislators were inducted into the of the  cabinet with a strength of 34-members  including the Chief Minister, while another 16 berths are vacant.

Even the Opposition Congress is endorsing Yediyurappa’s stand against the Lingayat seer, party leader and legislator Dinesh Gundu Rao said religious leaders of any community should not threaten a chief minister of a state in political matters.