“While the BJP is looking at the Hindu votes, the Congress is appeasing Muslims, and the JD(S) is eyeing the SC/ST vote. Nobody wants to talk about development,” a voter adds.

Ground report In Karnatakas Bidar South strong anti-incumbency may cost Ashok KhennyImage: Facebook/Ashok Khenny
Karnataka Elections Politics Saturday, May 05, 2018 - 13:21

It was on April 29, that people of Kamthana village in Karnataka’s northern-most Bidar district surrounded the car of controversial businessman and local MLA Ashok Khenny, raising slogans.

They were angry at the legislator for failing on all his promises and accused him of turning a blind eye against their woes.

“He visited the constituency only once after we elected him, and he didn’t care for us at all. He made all these tall promises and we believed him like fools,” says a villager.

The anger is justified as Kamthana, though barely a few kms from Bidar city, has battered roads, large piles of garbage stacked up at one end and shows no signs of development.

In fact, the entire stretch from Bidar to Bagdal village is in tatters, with work on a new road starting just before the election.             

“We don’t have roads. We face frequent power cuts. We don’t have any employment opportunities as there are no industries here. It feels like we wasted our votes on Khenny. He cheated us on all the promises he made,” a villager at Yadlapur said.

Background

The founder of Karnataka Makkala Paksha, Ashok Khenny was inducted into the Congress in the first week of March, much to the surprise of top Congress leaders in Karnataka.

Kheny is the owner of Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprise (NICE), which built the controversial ring-road in Bengaluru and is facing allegations of forgery, land grabbing and murder in relation to the construction project.

A Joint Legislative Committee formed in 2014 to probe the allegations had even recommended criminal action against Kheny in 2017.

Failed promises

Khenny’s main promise was that he would turn Bidar South into a ‘mini-Singapore’, assuring voters that he would use his influence to attract several industries to the district and create jobs.

He also claimed that he would not wait for the government to sanction funds, instead will use his own wealth, to ‘adopt’ villages.

However, villagers on the ground say that Khenny turned out to be worse than his predecessors, as he barely worked in the constituency, while leading a luxurious lifestyle in Bengaluru.

Candidates

While Ashok Khenny’s nomination is seen as a move to appease the Lingayats, the community from which the businessman hails, it has not gone down well with many.

Within the Congress, party leaders like ST Somashekar, Rajarajeshwari Nagar MLA Munirathna, and KR Puram MLA Byrathi Basavaraj have openly opposed Kheny's induction, which reportedly took place at the request of Energy Minister DK Shivakumar.

The opposition parties have not let this go easily either, fielding strong candidates in a bid to strike a blow to the Congress,

The JD(S) has fielded former Minister Bandeppa Kashempur, a native of the district who also was the legislator of Bidar South constituency in 2008. The Kuruba leader had also contested against Khenny in 2013 and lost, but villagers say that he has always been easily accessible unlike the Congress legislator.

The BJP on the other hand, has fielded Shailendra Beldale, a former Karnataka Janata Paksha candidate considered close to former CM BS Yeddyurappa. He is also the present District President for the BJP and is said to enjoy a lot of influence in the area among the Lingayat community.

Shailendra Beldale and Bandeppa Kashempur

Affiliations and anti-incumbency

“The way it is in Bhangoor is that people will vote for the party that they have historically voted for and not the candidate. While there are strong local Muslim leaders, most of them are affiliated to the Congress, which is why the votes generally sway in their direction. I have been voting for Congress for more than 40 years personally,” says Kareem, a long-time resident of the village, which lies on the Telangana-Karnataka border.

In Manehalli, there is conflict. While the village has historically voted for the Congress, there is strong anti-incumbency wave due to unemployment.

“We have never had water problems historically, because of a big lake in the locality. However, people are not able to get jobs. I have two children who are graduates, but they are forced to work in the farm because they can’t leave their ailing parents and go to Hyderabad or Bangalore for work,” says Abdul Qader, who runs a small shop in Manehalli.

The village largely has only old people, as many youngsters have left for bigger cities in search of jobs.

Some in the village also alleged that the Congress was secretly bribing voters with Rs 500 per vote for Ashok Khenny.

“We can maybe use that money for a day or two, but instead if they use it for providing us roads and electricity, we would be much happier,” a resident says on the condition of anonymity. 

Similar allegations also surfaced in Kamthana, where people said that all parties had offered to bribe them, including the Congress.

Dasarath, a farm labourer in Yakatpur, says, “The problem is that it is a very high stakes election for the parties, and all of them are asking for votes based on our identity.”

“While the BJP is looking at the Hindu votes, the Congress is looking to appease the local Muslims, and the JD(S) is eyeing the SC/ST vote. Nobody wants to talk about development,” he adds.

In Nagora village, Jukareddy Kanchan, a farmer whose family owns six acres of land says, “I have been tilling these fields from 1986, but voting for much longer. The Reddys and Lingayats in the village, along with other Hindu castes like the Kapus vote for the BJP, while the BC vote goes to the Congress. The JD(S) just splits votes here from both parties, depending on their agenda for each election.”

However, the situation is the exact opposite at Amlapur, where the JD(S) says that it will bag every vote, as it has been working non-stop after its 2013 defeat in the constituency.

“We set up an office here following the election, and we have taken up many issues on behalf of the people. They trust us and we have promised them that our candidate will work for them, and not just forget them like the present MLA,” says JD(S) District organisation secretary MD Saleem.

“The BSP and AIMIM extending support will also help us a great deal, as they used to split the votes earlier. The Congress and the BJP have no agenda. They just obey orders from Delhi. That is not the case with our party, and we are confident of winning the election this time,” he adds.

 

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