The Tur Bowl of Karnataka is boiling hot and it’s not because of the soaring mercury which sometimes crosses the 40 degree mark. The Assembly election, now barely four months away, is set to witness a pitched battle between the ruling Congress and the opposition BJP with the JD(S) too gearing up to prove a point that it can’t be wished away.
It’s not going to be a cakewalk for the Congress this time after it won seven of the nine Assembly seats in Kalaburagi in 2013, demolishing the saffron party which had to contend with a split down the middle with veteran B.S. Yeddyurappa walking out to form his KJP. The political scene has drastically changed and though it’s still a bit too early to make predictions, a tough race is no doubt on the cards. Yeddyurappa is straining every sinew to prove he has lost none of his clout over the Lingayats and at the other end, Congress veteran Mallikarjun Kharge is keen to assert himself as the undisputable top leader of Hyderabad-Karnataka with the venerable Dharam Singh not around.
Although the undivided Kalaburagi district (which included the present day Yadgir district ) was a strong bastion of the Congress since Independence, it was the emergence of the Janata Parivar in the early eighties that broke the stranglehold of the Congress in the region. Of late, the BJP too has gained a foothold in the district, especially after Lingayat leader and former CM B.S. Yeddyurappa assumed the mantle of the party at the state level.
The political leadership of Kalaburagi has not only dominated the politics of Hyderabad-Karnataka but has also played a key role in state politics. After the downfall of former CM Veerendra Patil in the early nineties, Mallikarjun Kharge and Dharam Singh totally dominated Congress affairs not only in the district but also in the region.
In the 2013 Assembly election, the Congress made big gains in the district winning seven of the nine seats due to two factors-the conferring of special status on the backward H-K region under Article 371(J) of the Constitution and the division of BJP votes due to launch of the Karnataka Janata Party (KJP) by Mr Yeddyurappa. As a result, the BJP which had won five seats in the district in 2004, was able to retain only one in 2013- Gulbarga South- where the Revoor family can sway voters like no one else. On the other hand, the Congress tally improved from four in 2004 to seven in 2013.
But a lot of water has flowed under the Bhima bridge since the 2013 election. The issue of conferring special status on the HK region has faded from public memory and it’s no more a dominant factor in this election. And secondly, former BJP leaders who had quit the party to join KJP, have reverted to their parent organization. The third factor which may work against the Congress is the demise of two prominent leaders- N Dharam Singh and Qamrul Islam, who had a large following in the district.
Although Mr Kharge has emerged much stronger now at the national level with his appointment as Congress leader in the Lok Sabha, his influence has been affected after senior leaders such as Malikayya Guttedar, late Qamrul Islam besides former ministers from neighbouring Yadgir district, Dr Malakraddy and Baburao Chinchansur raised the banner of revolt against him following the elevation of his son Priyank Kharge as Minister. Although these leaders are lying low at the moment, they are expected to strike at the right moment during the coming elections and could affect the prospects of the party.
The absence of Mr Singh, who was known for his suave style and his ability to strike a chord with people, may affect the chances of the Congress not only in Jewargi which he represented eight times without a break, but also in many constituencies not only in the district but in neighbouring Bidar district as well. Similarly the sudden demise of Mr Islam, who was the unchallenged leader of the dominant Muslim community in the district, has created a big void in the community.
Till Mr Islam was alive, winning the Gulbarga North seat (earlier Gulbarga Assembly) was an easy task for the party. But now, retaining the seat and also the Muslim vote bank has now become a big challenge as Mr Islam never allowed a second rung leader to grow in the party. While the followers of Mr Islam are demanding the ticket for Mr Islam’s wife, it’s ultimately Mr Kharge who will have the last word on the issue. If Mr Kharge, who was at loggerheads with late Islam, decides to back his follower Ilyas Bhagwan, whom he got appointed as chairman of the North-West Road Transport Corporation (NWKRTC) and refuses the ticket to Mr Islam’s wife, the party may see a major upheaval.
Another worry for the Congress in the constituency is Mr Nasir Hussain who may contest as the JD(S) candidate. Till Mr Islam was alive, Mr Hussain, who contested in the previous election as KJP candidate, could not succeed much in winning over the Muslim electorate. But the absence of Mr Islam has created a big opportunity for this young leader. Some political observers are ready to bet on Mr Hussain saying if there is a chance of JD(S) winning a lone seat, it’s this one. The BJP contenders for the Gulbarga North seat are senior leader Mr Shashil Namoshi, entrepreneur Rajgopal Reddy and industrialist B.G. Patil’s son Chandu Patil.
In the Kalaburagi South seat where sitting BJP MLA Dattatreya Patil Revoor will be the candidate again, he may face a challenge from the Congress, which is yet to finalise its candidate and from an independent, Basavaraj Diggavi as well. If the latter, who is likely to eat into the BJP vote bank, manages to garner substantial votes, then he may help the chances of the Congress candidate.
Congressmen in the race for this seat are former MLC Allamprabhu Patil, Kalaburagi Mayor Sharanu Modi and the Block Congress President Neelakant Mulage.
In so far as the Kalaburagi Rural constituency is concerned, the scene is pretty hazy. Due to old age and poor health, the Congress has decided not to give the ticket to sitting MLA G Ramakrishna this time. He may be replaced by son Vijaykumar. In the BJP, former minister Revu Naik, who got elected four times from the constituency without a break before losing in the 2013 election due to the entry of the KJP candidate, would have bagged the ticket on a platter as he enjoys a good rapport not only with his Banjara community, who are in substantial numbers in the constituency, but also with other communities. But his decision to continue in the BJP when the KJP was launched by Mr Yeddyurappa, has strained his relationship with the latter. In case the party leadership rejects his plea for the Assembly ticket on the ground he would be the candidate for the Kalaburagi Lok Sabha seat in 2019, a Zilla Panchayat member, Basavaraj Mattimud or the BJP State Vice-President Baburao Chavan, who contested on the KJP ticket in 2013, may be the candidate.
In the high profile Chittapur constituency, minister Priyank Kharge has made the going tough for himself due to his ‘inaccessibility’ and ‘autocratic’ style of functioning. Although Mr Priyank has been able to bring a lot of funds to his constituency, he has earned a lot of enemies owing to his abrasive style.
Recently a big chunk of leaders led by former MLA Vishwanth Patil Hebbal left the Congress protesting against his “style of functioning” and their neglect in the party. This feeling is widespread and may make the going tough for him at the hustings. Considering the high percentage of Lambani voters in the constituency, the BJP has decided to field its former MLA, Valmiki Naik, who won in the 2009 by-election, but lost to Priyank in 2013, from Chittapur again.
In Afzalpur, six term Congress MLA Malikayya Guttedar is pitted against his traditional rival M.Y. Patil, who will be in the fray this time as BJP candidate. An old war horse Mr Patil entered politics in the seventies and has been fighting elections without a break on different party symbols since 1978. But he has been able to get elected only twice- in 1978 and 2004. In 2013, he fought on a KJP ticket. It remains to be seen whether Mr Patil’s appeal to voters to give him a last chance will see him through (He has decided not to contest in future).
Going by the outstanding performance of the BJP under Mr Patil’s stewardship in the recent Zilla Panchayat and taluk panchayat elections in Afzalpur taluk, one may get the impression that he may have an easy win in the coming Assembly election. But political observers believe that as in the previous elections Mr Guttedar, who wields ‘enormous money, muscle and liquor power,’ will marshal his resources well on time to inflict a defeat on his rivals, including those in the Congress party who want to see his downfall.
In Aland too, the fight will be between two traditional rivals- B.R. Patil and Subash Guttedar. In the changed scenario, Mr Patil, who won the previous election on a KJP ticket, is trying his luck on the Congress ticket this time. Mr Patil wanted to join the BJP as he had quit the Congress on the eve of the 2013 Assembly election to protest against the ‘stranglehold’ of Mr Kharge and Mr Singh on the Congress. But before he could join the saffron party, Mr Guttedar, who was in the JD(S), staged a coup of sorts by joining the BJP, thus upstaging the plans of Mr Patil. Mr Guttedar has won the seat thrice in 1994 (KCP), 1999 and 2008 (both JDS) and is testing the waters again on a BJP ticket this time.
In Jewargi, sitting Congress MLA Dr Ajay Singh will have a tough time as he is going to face the elections without his father, who had the knack of winning over people. Taking on Dr Singh will be Doddappagowda Patil Naribol of the BJP and Mr Kedarlingaiah Hiremath of the JD(S).
In Sedam, Medical Education Minister Dr Sharanprakash Patil is sitting pretty. Although the BJP has not yet finalised its candidate, its former district president Rajkumar Telkur is likely to be given a final chance. He has lost to Dr Patil thrice so far. In the reserved Chincholi constituency, the fight will be between sitting Congress MLA Dr Umesh Jadhav and former Minister Sunil Valyapure, who will be the BJP candidate.
The Rashtrakutas, the Bahmani kings and then the Mughals, Kalaburagi’s rich history- evident from the numerous ancient monuments dotting the district- is intertwined with political strife. There may be just nine seats up for grabs but this is the land of Veerendra Patil, Kharge and Dharam Singh-all stalwarts who etched their names in state politics and had to rise to the heights through toil and struggle warding off the challenge from less worthy politicians. And for this very reason, anyone expecting to make it quick and fast to the state assembly, riding on money or muscle power like in most polls, is surely in for a rude shock....