Karnataka Election 2018: With Chamundeshwari turning dicey, Siddaramaiah turns to Badami as insurance policy

On Saturday evening, when it became clear that Siddaramaiah would contest from Badami constituency in addition to Chamundeshwari, P Muralidhar Rao, BJP general secretary in-charge of party's Karnataka unit, mocked the chief minister about feeling scared, and therefore, choosing a second seat to contest in the upcoming Assembly elections in the state. His tweet was in Hindi and predicted that not only would Siddaramaiah lose from both seats, Karnataka too would become a Congress-mukt (Congress-free) state.

Siddaramiah came up with a pithy retort, delivered in Kannada.

 Karnataka Election 2018: With Chamundeshwari turning dicey, Siddaramaiah turns to Badami as insurance policy

File image of Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah. PTI

"Tweet in Kannada or English, do not understand Hindi," he tweeted to Rao.

The BJP leader had walked into that one, more so because Siddaramaiah has already branded BJP as a Hindi Hindutva party, not connected with the Kannadiga identity. Rao's sarcasm was felled by the one-liner.

Three hours later, Rao replied to Siddaramaiah in Kannada. In response, the Karnataka chief minister riposted: "I am happy I taught you to tweet in Kannada." Clearly, Siddaramaiah is unwilling to stop playing the regional identity card.

But the online jabs aside, the decision to make Siddaramaiah contest from two seats is an indication of who calls the shots in Congress, as far as Karnataka affairs are concerned. It is also an acknowledgement of how Chamundeshwari could get sticky given how JD(S) and BJP seem to be having a tacit understanding to get the better of Siddaramaiah. For the record though, Congress points to Narendra Modi contesting from Varanasi and Vadodara in 2014, to undercut the BJP's taunts.

The BJP has fielded a little-known local RSS worker Gopal Rao against Siddaramaiah. The ruling party at the Centre has never won Chamundeshwari and is not known to be a force to reckon with in the constituency. But the impression it conveys is that BJP has virtually retired from the contest, in order to help GT Deve Gowda of JD(S) mount a significant challenge to the chief minister. What is interesting is that Gowda was Siddaramaiah's poll manager during the time when the chief minister was in the Janata parivaar.

The 2.5 lakh voters in Chamundeshwari are dominated by over 70,000 Vokkaligas (Gowda's community) and OBCs (Siddaramaiah is a Kuruba, an OBC shepherd community), who along with Dalits and Muslims number close to 1.2 lakh. Lingayats count for about 30,000 votes and it is significant that the Suttur Mutt, that people in this part follow, has not yet spoken on the Lingayat religion issue. Given the numerical clout of the Vokkaliga community, Gowda will fancy his chances. More so, if BJP can help transfer a bit of the Lingayat vote to him. Siddaramaiah's friend-turned-foe Srinivas Prasad too would pitch in to move some of the Dalit votes away from the chief minister.

But is the contest as tough as it seems? A look at the data of the previous election reveals the Congress has always had a consistent vote share of around 35-38 percent in Chamundeshwari. Though part of it went to Varuna after delimitation in 2008, in most elections, it is either Congress or Siddaramaiah as an Independent in 1983 and subsequently as a Janata or Congress candidate who triumphed. The only time a non-Siddaramaiah Janata candidate won from Chamundeshwari was in 2013 when GT Deve Gowda won from the seat.

Besides, Siddaramaiah is working the emotional quotient in Chamundeshwari. Pegging 2018 as his tenth and last election, he wants the voters of Chamundeshwari who gave him a political life to elect him one final time.

But Gowda is hoping that the voters would not forget that Siddaramaiah "abandoned" Chamundeshwari for Varuna after 2006. And he will have Deve Gowda and HD Kumaraswamy campaign hard for him, to see to it that the chief minister bites the dust.

The chief minister's camp would also be concerned over reports about a package deal struck over Chamundeshwari and Varuna. The whisper campaign suggests that if BJP helps Gowda win in Chamundeshwari, the JD(S) would have to return the favour in Varuna, where Yeddyurappa's son Vijayendra will square off against Siddaramaiah's son Yathindra. The plan is to make the father-son duo nervous about its chances and make them sweat.

The Opposition, therefore, sees Badami as an insurance policy by Siddaramaiah. The sitting MLA in Badami, BB Chimmankatti had offered to leave his seat on condition that Siddaramaiah will contest from there. But when Congress gave the ticket to Devaraj Patil, Chimmankatti was upset. Patil's B-form was subsequently withheld.

"Badami will be symbolic because it will be for the first time in the history of Karnataka's electoral politics that someone of this stature will be contesting from both north and south Karnataka. It also helps Siddaramaiah look like a pan-Karnataka leader," points out Sugata Raju, a political analyst.

Siddaramaiah will also have the advantage of his Kuruba community's presence in Badami, roughly 50,000 of the 2 lakh voters. His candidature will energise the constituencies in Bagalkot district as well, thus helping Congress. The Bagalkot Lok Sabha seat has been a BJP pocket borough since 2004, with Gaddigoudar winning it thrice. Siddaramaiah moving into the Mumbai-Karnataka region is therefore with an eye on 2019 as well.

The question is whether BJP will allow Siddaramaiah an easy run in Badami or make BS Yeddyurappa face off against him. A presidential contest of sorts between the two chief ministerial aspirants would make Karnataka's political theatre really dramatic.

Updated Date: Apr 22, 2018 14:20:14 IST