For the past few months, this bespectacled politician has been striding across Karnataka leaving his colleagues amazed with his energy levels and his determination to leave no questions raised by his rivals - in his own party and in others- unanswered. He has weathered many an unprecedented political storm in his eventful career, rising from humble beginnings to occupy the top post in the state. Will he win one more battle - in Chamundeshwari - and make sure he is every Congressman’s choice if the party rides to power again after the May 12 polls? There are many who are already calling this the 'mother of all battles' between arch rivals in the Old Mysuru region, the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular). For, sitting JD(S) MLA, G.T. Deve Gowda is no novice and is determined to give him a run for his money for every vote in a Vokkaliga dominated constituency. SHYAM SUNDAR VATTAM takes a look at the undercurrents in Chamundeshwari where voters don’t seem to be too bothered about the fact that they could well be electing a CM to power and are only asking themselves who will do them more good in the long run.
There is a world of difference between 2006 when Siddaramaiah last faced the voters of Chamundeshwari and scraped through by a few hundred votes, and 2018. He was then fighting for survival after forcing a byelection in Chamundeshwari following his resignation from the JD(S) to join the Congress party. It was a do or die battle for the ambitious politico as a loss would have ended his political career. To defeat him, the JD(S) and BJP even entered into an alliance and fielded a hitherto unknown politician, Shivabasappa against the three-time MLA to prove a point that it was all that was needed to defeat him. The titans of Karnataka politics, Deve Gowda and B.S. Yeddyurappa, campaigned jointly for Shivabasappa but it was just not enough to defeat Siddaramaiah who won by 257 votes. The rest is history - Siddu became opposition leader after the BJP swept to power in 2008 and then CM when the saffronists with their follies and infighting, presented power to the Congress on a platter in 2013. En route, he also nixed the CM prospects of two senior Congress leaders, Mallikarjun Kharge and KPCC President Dr G Parameshwar.
Much water has flowed under the bridge in the last 12 years. After the death of Rakesh Siddaramaiah, his elder son and heir apparent, Siddaramaiah has taken on himself the responsibility of promoting his second son, Dr Yatindra Siddaramaiah, who is new to the nuances of politics. The CM has even vacated the Varuna assembly seat from where he had won in 2008 and 2013 as he feels his doctor-son can make a smooth debut in state politics from Varuna while he can win Chamundeshwari without much effort.
But will it be so easy for him this time? Siddaramaiah has of course done his groundwork in Chamundeshwari, comprising of 160 villages and three hoblis- Ilwala, Jayapura and Kasaba and a total voting strength of 2,88,111. There has been no dearth of funds since 2013 with pending drinking water schemes and basic amenity projects securing immediate approval of the state Cabinet to make things smoother for the CM.
However, not all voters are happy in Chamundeshwari as Siddaramaiah did not bother to visit and thank them for the wafer thin margin in the byelection held in 2006. "If Siddaramaiah is CM, it's because of our efforts. Had we not voted for him, he would have been nowhere in politics. But after the victory, he never came to our constituency. Now, after a gap of 12 years, he is regularly coming to meet us. What's the guarantee that he will come back to say thanks to all of us", asked Rudregowda of Rammanahalli village.
Chamundeshwari is one constituency where the dominant communities continue to dominate - the Vokkaligas are in a majority with around 75,000 voters, followed by Dalits-45,000, Kurubas-40,000, Lingayats- 30,000, Nayaks- 30,000, Vishwakarma-15,000, Brahmins-15,000 and Muslims- 5000. Since, the sitting MLA G.T. Deve Gowda belongs to the Vokkaliga community, the JD(S) expects them to wholeheartedly support Mr Gowda. It is still unclear who the Lingayats will vote for because of the confusion among the Veerashaivas and Lingayats over religious minority tag. Prabhuswamy, a retired bank employee said, " We haven't decided who to support - Siddaramaiah or Deve Gowda. Some say the CM had divided our community and some feel our children will benefit if our religion gets the minority status. We will go by what our leaders say".
Leave aside the community equation, there are two politicians-once his trusted colleagues-who have sworn to make life difficult for Siddaramaiah. One is V Srinivasprasad, a noted Dalit leader now in the BJP and the other is H Vishwanath, a Kuruba leader, now in the JD(S). They have openly declared that their common enemy is Siddaramaiah and they will not rest till he is defeated.
Srinivasprasad has been licking his wounds ever ever since he was defeated by the Congress candidate in the Nanjangud bypoll and so is Mr Vishwanath, who joined the JD(S) after being persistently ignored by Siddaramaiah and his loyalists. Srinivasprasad, irrespective of whether the BJP fields its candidate, will support G.T. Deve Gowda to ensure the defeat of Siddaramaiah. As Dalits, Lingayats and Vokkaligas constitute around 1.5 lakh of the total 2.88 lakh voters, any candidate who manages to get the votes of these three communities can easily romp home.
But the CM is no stranger to tough battles and after deciding to change his constituency, has revived his old connections. He identified important leaders of all communities in the constituency and invited them to Bengaluru to know their requirements and sanctioned them on the spot. He knows how Srinivasprasad strategises and has taken all steps to counter his friend turned foe, said sources.
The neutral stance adopted by seers of the Old Mysuru region on the religious minority row - unlike in north and central Karnataka where many pontiffs have rallied in support of Siddu - is however a cause of concern for the CM....