It is a case of one-upmanship in Belagavi, where political leaders have been distributing attractive gifts to voters. Each coming up with ways to outdo the ones distributed by the other candidates. All this was cleverly done way before the Model Code of Conduct came into effect.
Over the past few months a steady stream of goodies has made its way into the homes of voters. From sarees to gas stoves, wall clocks and wrist watches, voters have been flooded with freebies by political leaders, who hope to strengthen their voter base.
Political party insiders say that despite the Model Code of Conduct being in place, stoves, wall clocks, silver coins and sarees are slated to arrive through trucks, which will be deposited at several secret locations and distributed to voters.
And until last week, pressure cookers were being distributed by Water Resources Minister MB Patil in Babaleshwar. BJP MLA Sanjay Patilâs supporters had reportedly distributed saris and silver coins.
âIn this part of Karnataka, if you are not from the MES (Maharashtra Ekikarna Samiti) giving gifts is the only other option if voters have to remember who the leader is,â says a Congress leader from the region. A majority of voters in Belagavi are Marathi speakers and MES has gained widespread popularity in the region as it spearheaded the movement to join Maharashtra.
According to Congress sources, President of Karnataka Congress Womenâs Wing Lakshmi Hebbalkar, has faced tough competition over the past few months.
âLakshmi Hebbalkar started a campaign âLakshmi in every homeâ a few months ago. In a region where women candidates have never won, she has been aggressive in campaigning. What is important to note is that those who do not vote for MES tend to veer towards the Hindutva ideology. Lakshmi Hebbalkar went door-to-door distributing turmeric and vermillion. Later she went on to distributing gas stoves,â Congress insiders say.
Congress leaders say that to counter Lakshmiâs idea of distributing gas stoves, Congress ticket aspirant and Hebbalkarâs arch rival Ashok Pattan began distributing wall clocks with pictures of him and CM Siddaramaiah printed on it.
Senior Congress leader and MLA Satish Jarkiholi, who is supporting Ashok Pattanâs candidature, has taken the subtle route of paying more money for the sugarcane he buys from the farmers. This to counter Lakshmi. âThe current market price is Rs 2,500 per tonne. Satish is paying Rs 2,515 per tonne. Satish also got Ashok Pattan to distribute the clocks as he does not want Lakshmi Hebbalkar to win from Belagavi Rural,â a senior Congress leader said.
Party insiders say that over the past two months Hebbalkar alone has distributed sarees and gas stoves to over 15,000 people in the constituency.
âShe has been aggressive in campaigning. Satish Jarkiholi, MLA of the Yamkanmardi constituency, does not want her to win. Satish and Lakshmi both own sugar factories. Satish has already managed to steal sugarcane sellers from Lakshmiâs constituency by offering them higher prices. This does not bode well. He has been supporting Ashok Pattan, the Congress Chief Whip. This has led to internal feuds in the party,â the Congress leader added.
This in-fighting in the party reached its peak in February with AICC President Rahul Gandhi calling for an intervention, while on his tour in Bagalakote. The Congress President is said to have given Satish Jarkiholi a fair warning to cease activities that could sabotage the partyâs image in the region.
âDespite this, with Satishâs help, wall clocks were distributed in Ramdurg till late Monday night. However, Lakshmi Hebbalkar has built up a strong support base like no other leader over the past four years. She has learnt Marathi in order to appease the locals and through her emotional speeches, managed to connect with the women. Now the vote bank of women are all supporters of Hebbalkar in Belagavi Rural,â a BJP functionary with the IT Cell said.