Thousands of people had gathered in Belawadi, a village in Karnataka’s Chamundeshwari, to greet JD(S) President HD Kumaraswamy.
“Kumaranna will be the next CM” hundreds chanted as the JD(S) bus travelled across several villages in Chamundeshwari on a three-day tour.
Although the JD(S) candidate contesting from Chamundeshwari is GT Deve Gowda, this time around it is actually a proxy battle between two bitter rivals – CM Siddaramaiah and HD Kumaraswamy.
Elections in Karnataka have been a battle of castes, strategies moulded to appease the sentiments of politically strong communities.
This time around too, caste plays a major role, especially in the Chamundeshwari constituency. It is the Vokkaligas versus Kurubas, that is JD(S) versus Siddaramaiah.
“Siddaramaiah’s rallies have not witnessed a gathering of so many people. This is a sign of support for the JD(S),” GT Deve Gowda said.
Congress insiders too say that in several areas in Chamundeshwari, the numbers were weak at Siddaramaiah’s rallies.
“This is going to be a tough fight but Siddaramaiah is confident of winning,” a senior Congress leader said.
So why is it a tough battle for the incumbent CM?
JD(S) campaign – “Siddaramaiah is anti-Vokkaliga”
“Siddaramaiah is campaigning across Chamundeshwari based on the development factor. He keeps talking about how much money his government has allotted for the constituency. The various Bhagyas are always a part of his speeches. But the Vokkaligas will not forget the injustice done to them. It does not matter what pro-people schemes were launched. Their caste sentiment has been hurt on multiple occasions. That is why it is difficult for him to win here,” a JD(S) leader at the rally said.
According to a Congress leader, the JD(S) has launched a strong campaign – portraying Siddaramaiah as anti-Vokkaliga. Sources say that this began way back in 2013, right after the Assembly elections and the Congress came to power.
During the 2013 elections, an FIR was registered against Rakesh, Siddaramaiah’s son, for attempted murder. Nazarabad Police Station Inspector GN Mohan Kumar, a Vokkaliga himself, had registered the FIR. Rakesh was accused of the attempted murder of Ka Pu Siddalingaswamy, who was contesting against his father in Varuna.
“Mohan Kumar was suspended and has not been given a posting even after five years. The JD(S) has used this to convince the people that Siddaramaiah is anti-Vokkaliga. This was only one such transfer, there have been may others. Kuruba candidates replaced Vokkaligas in several posts during Siddaramaiah’s five-year tenure. All benefits were given to Kurubas and the OBC community. The Vokkaligas felt side-lined. By portraying himself as a leader of the Ahinda base, he alienated the Vokkaligas,” the Congress leader said.
The caste factor
Chamundeshwari has traditionally been a JD(S) stronghold but Siddaramaiah himself has won five times from this region.
With 308 booths, Chamundeshwari has over 2.5 lakh voters; 60% of the population belong to the Vokkaliga community. While 1.2 lakh voters consist of the OBC and Muslim communities, the Kuruba population is between 35,000 – 38,000.
After the 2004 delimitation, most of the villages with a high Kuruba population were shifted under Varuna. With that, Siddaramaiah lost his major support base in Chamundeshwari.
JD(S)’s personal touch with constituents
Congress insiders say that in Chamundeshwari, GT Deve Gowda’s son Harish Gowda has taken over the minute details of the campaign.
Since 2017, Harish Gowda has kept track of everything in the constituency. Every death in every family in every village is noted. Harish Gowda and his followers make sure that the last rites of these people have been paid for. Every grievance is addressed, the Congress leader said.
“GT Deve Gowda is now the most accessible leader thanks to his son. These gestures of help are imprinted in the people’s minds. This is how they (JDS) get to say – Siddaramaiah has not done anything for Vokkaligas, he is against the community. When a family member died in a village in Chamundeshwari, it was GT Deve Gowda’s son who shared their grief, not Siddaramaiah. The Vokkaligas there believe that if Kumaraswamy becomes the CM, their lives will become better. Even now, it is not Harish Gowda or GT Deve Gowda’s name they remember. When asked who they would vote for, they say Kumaraswamy,” a JD(S) leader told TNM.