The third phase of polling on Tuesday sees 14 Lok Sabha seats from the northern part of Karnataka decide whether the Congress-JD(S) alliance will deliver a mighty blow to the BJP or whether the 'Narendra Modi wave' will help the BJP retain its stranglehold on the Lingayat belt.
In 2014, the BJP had won 11 of 14 seats, half of them by a margin of more than a lakh votes, but in the by-election to the Ballary Lok Sabha seat six months ago, the Congress had shocked the BJP by snatching this seat by a 2.43-lakh margin, exposing the chinks in its armour. Since then, however, there has been much water under the bridge with fissures appearing in the Congress-JD(S) alliance over the distribution of seats and the BJP also tweaking its strategy to regain lost ground.
No one is facing more heat from the BJP's smart strategy than the Congress' floor leader in the Lok Sabha, M Mallikarjun Kharge in Kalburgi constituency. A nine-time MLA and two-time MP, Kharge — who is undefeated in his political career spanning five decades — is facing Dr Umesh Jadhav of the BJP, who defected from the Congress just before the election. Jadhav, an MLA from Chincholi, had been identified by the BJP to take on Kharge six months in advance, but he faced some anxious moments when the Speaker delayed the acceptance of his resignation from the Assembly until the eleventh hour. Kharge believes that Modi has targeted him because he had given the prime minister a tough time in Parliament debates.
Kharge is banking on his development work in the region, including starting an ESI hospital, a cancer hospital and sanctioning a railway coach factory when he was railway minister briefly during the UPA government, and successfully fighting for special status for the north Karnataka region with the inclusion of Article 371(J) in the Constitution.
But, he has made enemies within his party by promoting his son Priyank Kharge, a second-time minister in the coalition government. Other senior leaders like Malakaiah Guttedar, Baburao Chinchansoor and Malaka Reddy — who always backed him in his political career — have quit the Congress and joined the BJP to support Jadhav, to defeat Kharge Sr this time around. But, it won't be easy to tame an old tiger who knows his territory well.
Another prestigious battle is taking place in Shivamogga where state BJP president BS Yeddyurappa's son, BY Raghavendra is fighting to retain his seat against Madhu Bangarappa, son of late chief minister S Bangarappa. In the by-election held six months ago after Yeddyurappa moved to the Assembly, Raghavendra had defeated Madhu by 52,000 votes — a far cry from the 3.3-lakh margin of victory Yeddyurappa had secured in 2014.
A phalanx of Congress and JD(S) leaders, including Siddaramaiah, HD Deve Gowda, DK Shivakumar and Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy are spending a lot of energy and resources in Shivamogga to defeat Raghavendra and demoralise Yeddyurappa, who is dreaming of toppling the coalition government soon after the Lok Sabha polls and returning as chief minister. There is an undercurrent of 'revenge' as well for the torrid time given to Nikhil Kumaraswamy in Mandya by supporting Sumalatha Ambareesh's candidature.
Union minister Ananthkumar Hegde, who made the controversial statement about changing the Constitution, and generally doesn't hesitate to vent his strong Hindutva comments, is looking for his sixth term from the Uttara Kannada constituency. Everybody wants to defeat him, but he remains quite popular among the people and is probably the candidate who spends the least amount of money during elections. The Congress has ceded this seat to Anand Asnotikar of the JD(S), who is unlikely to stop Hegde from entering Parliament again.
In Ballary, VS Ugrappa of the Congress, after surprising everyone, including perhaps himself just six months ago, appears to be struggling now as the Congress camp is in complete disarray with MLAs Nagendra, Bhima Naik, Anand Singh and GN Ganesh already having one foot in the BJP and the infamous 'bottle war' between Anand Singh and Ganesh in a resort having tarnished the party's image in the district. Besides, the BJP has chosen Y Devendrappa, a relative of Ramesh Jarkhiholi as its candidate. Ramesh, having been dropped from the Kumaraswamy government, is said to be waiting for an opportune moment to lead disgruntled Congress MLAs to the BJP.
The BJP appears to have drafted in Ramesh Jarkhiholi's help in Belgaum and Chikkodi constituencies as well. In Belgaum, Ramesh's job of fighting his brother Satish Jarkhiholi is made easier by the Congress by putting up a surprise candidate in Sadhunavar against BJP veteran Suresh Angadi and in Chikkodi, he has taken on the responsibility of helping Annasaheb Jolle's campaign against Prakash Hukkeri of the Congress, who had scraped through by 3,000 votes last time.
In Davanagere, the Congress was in utter confusion as it had left it to veteran leader Shamanur Shivashankarappa to either run for election or put up his son, SS Mallikarjun. Neither of them did in the end and chose a relatively unknown HB Manjappa, possibly easing the way for GM Siddeshwara of the BJP to retain this seat.
Two strong proponents of a separate religion for Lingayats, Vinay Kulkarni and Eshwar Khandre are contesting from Dharwad and Bidar against Prahlad Joshi and Bagawant Khooba of the BJP respectively. But neither of them is now raising the issue of separate religion — in fact, senior leader DK Shivakumar has apologised to the community for initiating the move — but the BJP, including Modi, are reminding the voters about Congress' 'divisive politics'.
In all, the BJP seems to have substantially nullified any advantage the Congress and the JD(S) may have had by going together and looks more comfortably placed than it did just six months ago.
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Updated Date: Apr 23, 2019 09:25:28 IST