From the sand strewn beaches to the craggy mountains, from the lush green forests of Malnad to the ancient shrines of Udupi, the poll cry is sounding once again and political analysts are trying to decipher if it is a cry for change. Udupi Chikkamagalur is a constituency of strange contrasts and was formed by merging two separate constituencies- Udupi and Chikkamagalur during the 2008 delimitation exercise. Chikkamagalur comprises of 'Bayalu Seeme,' and 'Malnad,' where as Udupi is a coastal region. The topography, language, crops, lifestyle, culture and the demands of the people are entirely different in both these districts and therefore, the MP inevitably faces the challenge of understanding both regions and balancing their interests. Even candidate selection has become a tough job as political parties have to field someone who is acceptable in both districts. And there is the caste factor looming over everything else, though it may not upset carefuly crafted calculations here. Gururaj A. Paniyadi profiles a constituency where after a long time, the saffron party is facing a challenge from both within and outside.
Udupi-Chikkamagaluru MP Shobha Karandlaje is back with a bang trying to woo a constituency which gave her an astounding margin of 1.81 lakh votes in 2014, largely aided by the Modi wave. But in the political terra firma, things are never static and this time the challenger is no doubt a formidable one- former Congress minister Pramod Madhwaraj who is contesting on a JD(S) ticket!
This is the only constituency where a Congress leader is fighting on a JD(S) ticket all because the seat was given to JD(S) during the seat sharing arrangement between the coalition partners.
The constituency that came into existence during the 2008 election has been a BJP stronghold except for a brief period between 2012 and 2014 when Jayaprakash Hegde of the Congress won the byelection. But one cannot remnisce the fact that Udupi as well as Chikkamagalur when they were separate seats, were always strongholds of the Congress with the party winning most of the elections from 1952 till the mid 1990s.
History buffs know quite well that Chikkamagalur was the constituency which gave new life to Mrs Indira Gandhi after she lost the Lok Sabha election post the emergency in 1977. However, after 1998, both constituencies started turning saffron though the Congress did win Udupi back in the 1999 election.
In 2004, Pramod’s mother Manorama Madhwaraj contested as a BJP candidate and wrested the seat for the saffron party while DV Sadananda Gowda continued the victory run in 2009. He quit the seat to become CM in 2011 but this proved costly for the BJP with the Congress candidate Jayaprakash Hegde winning the seat only to be defeated by Shobha Karandlaje in 2014.
This time, what could qeer the pitch for Shobha is the fact that she is facing strong opposition with even a ‘Go Back Shobha’ campaign gaining momentum before her candidature was announced. She however made it to the canddate`s list with a generous dollop of support from party state president B.S. Yeddyurappa .
Interestingly, for the first time, the Congress symbol has vanished from the EVMs with Pramod contesting on the JD(S) symbol.Congress leaders are not too amused over this and aver that it is a wrong move by the coalition leaders as the party is still strong in both Udupi and Chikkamagalur. This was proved in the Parliament byelection in 2012 and also in the assembly elections in 2013 when three out of five constituencies in Udupi were won by the Congress. However the trend changed in the later assembly and parliament elections with the BJP gaining the upper hand.
The Congress woes are primarily because of the absence of a strong district level leader in Udupi and also in Chikkamagalur with the BJP managing to grab power at all the levels right from the panchayats to Parliament. Shobha`s margin of 1.81 lakh votes was maintained by the BJP in the assembly elections too and the Congress has not been able to do much to breach the gap.That the JD(S) will have to piggyride on Congress strength is quite evident from the fact that in the 2014 parliament elections, former Union minister late V Dhananjay Kumar who was the JD(S) candidate, could manage to garner only 14,895 votes. Even if JD(S) and Congress votes are added, the BJP`s previous victory margin would be more than 1.5 lakh votes which looks invincible!
All that the coalition has to fall back on is the image of its candidate Pramod Madhwaraj, who is from the fishermen community and has the experience of being an MLA and minister. “There is much anger against Shobha in this election. The undercurrent against her cannot be ignored. People are angry as she has not worked for the constituency. The anti incumbency the Modi government is facing and the anger against Shobha will see our candidate Pramod through. He is from the fishermen community, whish is pretty strong in numbers in the coastal region. Due to his social work, he enjoys a good name in society. The JD(S) is strong in Chikkamagalur and the Congress in Udupi and our combined might will ensure our candidate sails through,” claims JD(S) leader M.B. Sadashiva.
What is however proving disconcerting for the Congress is the challenge of presenting Pramod as a JD(S) candidate.”We introduce him as our candidate but tell people that there is a change of symbol. This is realy difficult and a large number of our workers are still unhappy with us for fielding a JD(S) candidate in a Congress stronghold,” a senior Congress office bearer disclosed.
Meanwhile the BJP seems supremely confident of victory thanks to the Modi wave and the various projects the MP has brought to the two districts.BJP leaders claim that Shobha has brought many central government initiatives and feel the vote for Narendra Modi`s return to power will carry her to victory.
However the internal rivalry in the BJP is a cause of concern for the party as supporters of former MP Jayaprakash Hegde (now in the BJP) wanted him to be fielded as the candidate. This had also triggered the ‘Go Back Shobha,’ campaign in Udupi but experts feel it will not have much of an impact on the election.
“In Udupi, what matters is the BJP, Narendra Modi’s image and his work. Any candidate who stands under the BJP banner will win. That is the reason why even a candidate from outside the district can win here. Those who were part of the ‘Go Back Shobha,’ campaign too are
lobbying for her now. Youth power is a big plus point of the BJP as they do not care for factors like caste and are attracted by strong patriotic issues. This will naturally help the BJP in this election,” explains Mangaluru University Political Science Department Professor Dr P.L. Dharma.
This is also why the caste calculation will not work in this election. “Shobha did not win last time because she is a Vokkaliga as the community cannot play a decisive role in this seat. Even local problems hardly hit the limelight with all the attention focused on national issues,” he says.
He feels the Congress still enjoys good support among the estate owners in Chikkamagalur. and is unable to comprehend the logic behind fielding a JD(S) candidate in Udupi-Chikkamagalur.”Pramod may have been a minister and may be from fthe fishermen community. But the BJP too has huge support among the fishermen. Udupi and Chikkamagalur were strongholds of the Congress and the JD(S) does not have a base here. Fielding a JD(S) candidate here may prove to be a risky proposition and may only help the BJP continue its winning streak,” he adds.