‘Nangada desa, nangada bashe’ (our land, our language) has, and will always be, a rallying cry for Kodavas. But it looks like both the Congress and the BJP have forgotten this in the run up to the 2018 Karnataka Assembly elections, when it comes to their choice of candidates.
And as they continue with their high-pitched campaign across the state, the people of Kodagu are conspicuously mum on who they will vote for.
Non-Kodavas as candidates
Both Congress and BJP zeroed in on their candidates for Virajpet and Madikeri after much internal fighting.
The Congress had initially announced former State Public Prosecutor (SPP) HS Chandramouli as their candidate from Madikeri – but there was much outrage on the announcement, as Chandramouli represents Mehul Choksi in the PNB scam case. In their second list, the party then decided to nominate Zilla Panchayat member KP Chandrakala instead – who is a Vokkaliga. Their choice for Virajpet meanwhile is former MLC Arun Machaiah.
The party has seen a leadership vacuum in the district since the untimely demise of Biddatanda T Pradeep in 2017 – and has also seen a lot of infighting since. Congress is hoping that in both seats, anti incumbency against the BJP will work in their favour.
BJP meanwhile has decided to stick with their incumbents – and veteran leaders – Appachu Ranjan and KG Bopaiah from Madikeri and Virajpet respectively. This despite pressure from an RSS backed faction to name BB Bharathish as their candidate from Madikeri. Meanwhile in Virajpet, local community leaders asked the party to replace Bopaiah – who is not a Kodava – with someone from the Kodava community. However, the party decided to dismiss these murmurs and stick to their incumbents.
"The candidate selection issue in deeply personal to the Kodavas,” says Pradeep, a local journalist. “The people are not so forgiving of parties where they sense outsider intervention, including the role of the ‘high command’ in the selection process. That’s why the national political leaders never address political rallies at Madikeri – firstly, no one participates; secondly, it may end up being counter-productive to the winning prospects of the candidates,” Pradeep explains.
JD(S) tries to cash in
As BJP and Congress deal with the internal rivalry in their parties, the JD(S) has chosen to go with highly popular candidates – both Kodavas – to ensure a win.
At Virajpet, JD(S) District President Sanketh Poovaiah has been announced as the candidate. From Madikeri, they’ve nominated formed Forest Minister BA Jivijaya. The 75-year old, who was formerly with Congress, missed his chances in the 2013 election by 4629 votes, and is very popular in the region for his environment-friendly initiatives.
In the district with active citizen movements for ecological concerns, no party can turn its back on this matter. Recently, the Ministry of Railways was forced to indefinitely postpone their ambitious Mysuru-Thalassery railway line proposal – which would have required the felling of lakhs of trees – because of the opposition from the people.
Living with state and national leaders’ choices
Beyond candidate choices, local leaders also have to live with their parties’ decisions and policies that have irked the people of Kodagu.
The Congress – and Chief Minister Siddaramaiah – strongly backed Tipu Jayanthi celebrations in Karnataka. The issue is extremely contentious in Kodagu, as Tipu Sultan persecuted Kodavas, and the local leaders of the party had to meticulously distance themselves from the celebration.
“Our state leaders felt that there was a larger message of secularism to be sent across. And since the party is not in power in the district, they felt they had nothing to lose,” a local Congress leader says. “However, that one event has overshadowed the other state government initiatives for providing better local infrastructure in the region. We just hope the people don’t hold that (Tipu Jayanthi) against the local representatives while voting,” they add.
“‘Nangada desa, nangada bashe' will always be a rallying cry for Kodavas. Irrespective of the stature of the leader at the state or the national level, if the leaders pay no heed to Kodava sentiment – transcending party, religion, caste, class – people will simply look-away," Manju, a local resident says.
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