This Election, Karnataka Will Try to Regain Its Regional Identity

The high-voltage Lok Sabha election in Karnataka will be the first big test for the ruling Congress-JD(S) combine.

Karnataka goes to vote on April 18 in a high-voltage election for the state. In a fair guess, the Janata Dal (Secular), that was almost decimated in the Lok Sabha polls, has received its biggest opportunity to make a comeback. The Congress too has gained strength – and unlike last time, parts of state haven’t been swept up by the ‘Modi wave’.

So much so that JD(S) supremo and former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda, an octogenarian who is close to being a nonagenarian, has taken’s a lion’s share for his grandsons and is even clandestinely hopeful of having another go at the PM’s seat – should the gathbandhan yield any results.

The BJP does not have the same advantage in south Indian states as it did last time. Kerala may open a small door, but Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are fragmented, Tamil Nadu is simmering and Karnataka seems to be demanding its share of blood now.

In 2014, the BJP had emerged as the single largest party during Lok Sabha elections with 17 seats from the state. The Congress picked up up only nine seats, and the JD(S) only two.

Of the two victories, H.D. Deve Gowda retained his conventional Hassan seat, while C.S. Puttaraju won from Mandya seat. This time around, Mandya and Hassan have been the training fields for Deve Gowda’s grandsons from his two sons. Karnataka CM H.D. Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil is contesting from Mandya seat and his elder brother Revanna’s son Prajwal is contesting from Hassan seat.

Deve Gowda, after much dillydallying has settled on Tumkur constituency.

Nikhil Kumaraswamy. Credit: Facebook

Does that make it disadvantageous for the JD(S) supremo? No, say a majority of the people of Tumkur. The city that’s so-near-yet-so-far from Bengaluru is known for its culture, humility, trade and industries. Tumkur is also known for its educational and spiritual institutions. The percentage of OBCs and SCs is the deciding factor and they seem to be with Gowda at the moment.

Mandya has staged another high drama. Sumalatha, the actor wife of the late Congress legend Ambareesh, is contesting as an independent after the Congress denied her a ticket. As for the coalition understanding, Mandya was JD(S)’s choice next only to Mysore. Former CM Siddaramaiah didn’t want to leave his bastion of old Mysore region. So Vijayshankar, who was formerly with BJP was given ticket to contest from here, against Pratap Simha the sitting MP from BJP. The fight here is close but looks like Congress is gaining some solid ground here.

After a few hits and misses, and Congress seeming like it was clandestinely supporting the JD(S) opponent in Mandya, Sumalatha, Rahul Gandhi finally firmly put the terms of alliance in place.

Theelection was focused on Mandya mostly with chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy making a road show every other day in Mandya and Deve Gowda campaigning for his grandsons equally. So the names of grandsons are just coincidental to voters who trust Deve Gowda will fight for their cause.

H.D. Deve Gowda and Siddaramaiah. Credit: PTI/Files

But a victory will likely not be dependent on how many appearances they made, as against the confidence people have in Deve Gowda and his ilk to represent Karnataka at the Centre.

Mandya, Hassan and Tumkur seemed to have worked on independent axes with no tandem or centre of gravity. But this vokkaliga stronghold seems to have convinced its people that their agricultural and water woes would be adequately represented at the Centre only by Deve Gowda and no one else.

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The rest of Karnataka will likely vote based on the performances of past MPs. The coastal belt is also likely to continue being a safe haven for BJP since neither the Congress or JD(S) have made no tangible efforts to change the status quo there. Even when there was a dissident note to Shobha Karandlaje and Nalin Kumar Kateel, coastal Karnataka, as a Hindutva bastion, will stand by BJP, including Uttara Kannada, Shimoga, Udupi-Chikmagalur, Dakshina Kannada, Uttara Kannada among the others.

North Karnataka has had a massive history of communal harmony, but successive Congress governments have been very urban-centric and have ignored the cause of this region. Congress strongman Mallikarjun Kharge has almost reached the end of his political career without being  offered the top post. This discrimination and absence of representation has left North Karnataka miffed with the Congress.

The BJP has capitalised on the otherwise secular central, north and Hyderabad Karnataka districts such as Davanagere, Dharwad, Ballari, Bijapur, Belgaum, Koppal, Bagalkot, Bidar.

But a major popular disappointment was the BJP MPs failure to speak for Karnataka during the Mahadeyi or Cauvery water crisis. This is in part why south Karnataka believes Deve Gowda would protect their interests better.

One tiny, if not very significant, ray of hope are the two women who are contesting from both JD(S) and Congress from Vijayapura and Bagalkote seats, which are both deeply feudal zones.

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Bagalkote zilla panchayat chairperson, Veena Kashappanavar, wife of former Hungund MLA Vijayanand, is defending the seat from Congress party. Sunitha Chavan, wife of Nagthan MLA Devanand is fighting for JD(S). Among the women, only Shobha Karandlaje managed to wrest a ticket from the BJP as a lone woman representative.

It will also be interesting to watch how JD(S) performs in Uttara Kannada with Anand Asnotikar as their man, and whether Pramod Madhwaraj will be able to give a tough fight to his opponent in the BJP stronghold Udupi-Chikmagalur seat.

As per the experts, it is suicidal for JD(S) to even contest this seat, but knowing Deve Gowda, this could rather be a strategic contest if nothing else.