While the BJP is a growing force in this region, the Congress is not one to be brushed aside lightly.
Karnataka, which goes to the polls in two phases on April 18 and 23, poses a formidable challenge for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). While the BJP had stolen a march over the Congress-Janata Dal(Secular) combine in terms of being the single-largest party after the assembly, the post-poll alliance between the Congress and JDS robbed the BJP of a chance to form the government.
In a sense the BJP has a chance to be one up on the Congress-JDS alliance in the Lok Sabha elections. Much of the news on the alliance in the weeks after the assembly elections has focussed on the squabbles between the Congress and the JDS. There have indeed been few deliverables and fewer feathers in the coalition’s cap.
Indeed, relations between the hitherto rivals now in a coalition have been none too smooth with Congress kingpin and former chief minister Siddaramaiah and JDS chief and current chief minister HD Kumaraswamy nursing a history of animosity. This election would indeed be a test of how potent the coalition would be in the period after the elections and how justified would be the fears of internal sabotage of each other’s chances in the elections.
Unlike in Uttar Pradesh where the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party have coalesced well as poll partners despite a lot of bad blood in the past, in Karnataka the rivalry is still visibly strong. There are hints of some Congress legislators planning to strike deals with the BJP after the elections. Thus, there is little for the coalition partners to gloat about.
Also, as is widely acknowledged, the issues in central and state polls are different and as is being predicted, it could boil down to a contest between Narendra Modi vs Rahul Gandhi.
In half the 28 seats in Karnataka that will go to polls on April 23, the mystery of how healthy is the coalition will unravel in the state’s interior. The JDS is not a major player in this north Karnataka region and there is little to show that it has grown in recent years.
In a key contest of Chikkodi, Congress’ Prakash Hukkeri won by a narrow 3,003 votes in 2014, pipping Ramesh Katti of the BJP who had trounced him in 2009. Both candidates are from the Lingayat caste to which BJP state president BS Yeddyurappa belongs.
Traditionally, Chikkodi was considered the seat of power in North Karnataka because Congress’ Union minister B Shankaranand won it seven successive times from 1967 to 1996. In recent times, however, the BJP has gained considerable strength in the constituency and the scales could tilt towards it this time as well.
This time around, the BJP has chosen Annasaheb Jolle, preferring him over Katti who is sulking on the sidelines. Jolle is looked upon as suave and soft-spoken. A cooperative society that he founded has its branches spread across Belgaum and some districts in Maharashtra. His family trust runs a school for the differently-abled, and is also supportive of women’s self-help groups. He also has considerable support among the youth.
There is also a key constituency of Belgaum which has a concentration of Maharashtrians and borders that state. While the Congress won the seat in the 1999 elections, Suresh Angadi of the BJP has been winning thrice since then. He could well be the victim again.
Gulbarga is another prestigious seat which has been dominated by the Congress over the years. It has a large Muslim population. In Raichur, the Congress had managed to scrape through in the 2014 elections. Bidar is a constituency that has oscillated between the Congress and the BJP.
In Bellary where once former Congress President Sonia Gandhi defeated Sushma Swaraj, the BJP now holds sway — a sign of changing times.
All in all, North Karnataka is essentially a region where there are largely straight contests. While the BJP is a growing force, the Congress is not one to be brushed aside lightly. The stakes for both the Congress and the BJP are indeed high.
Kamlendra Kanwar is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal.For more Opinion pieces, click here.
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