Industrialist and ex-minister Murugesh Nirani, who wields considerable clout in the district, is in talks with potential candidates to secure a BJP win.

Karnataka polls Can Bagalakotes sugar barons help BJP win back its stronghold
news Politics Thursday, February 15, 2018 - 18:05

With the 2018 Assembly elections approaching, Bagalakote district is already seeing a flurry of activity, with several local leaders jostling for a ticket to contest.

Once a Bharatiya Janata Party stronghold, Bagalakote saw the Congress sweeping into power in 2013 after a corruption scandal rocked the district.

Bagalakote district comprises seven Assembly constituencies – Bagalakote, Badami, Hunagunda, Bilagi, Mudhol, Jamakhanda and Teradala. This Lingayat-dominant area saw the Congress bagging 6 seats and the BJP winning one in the last Assembly polls.

Congress party insiders say that former Excise Minister and Bagalakote MLA HY Meti may not even be offered a ticket, especially after his sex tape scandal in 2017.

Another minister not likely to get a ticket to contest this time, according to sources, is the Women and Child Development Minister Umashree.

“Umashree had worked for the upliftment of the Nekara community in the district, but after she was elected, voters feel that she has let them down. She is an aspirant for a ticket, but the high command has not yet decided who will get the tickets,” the Congress source said.

Bagalakote’s sugar barons

According to sources, prominent industrialist and former Industries Minister Murugesh Nirani is working to secure a BJP win in the state.

Murugesh had contested from the Bilagi constituency in the 2013 elections and lost by a margin of 11,162 votes to the current Congress MLA JT Patil.

He is largely considered State BJP Chief BS Yeddyurappa’s right-hand man. The Nirani brothers – Murugesh, Hanamantha and Sangamesh – are very influential in the BJP as they are rich and wield considerable power in the region.

“The problem is that Murugesh is not very well liked by people and this became evident after he was elected to power twice – in 2003 and 2008. According to the preliminary survey of candidates conducted by the party, it is thought that Murugesh will lose, no matter where he contests from. Hence, he has hatched a plan to ensure that he still has power in the area,” a BJP source said.

Insiders claim that Murugesh and a few BJP leaders in the region are in talks to poach Srishaila Dalavayi, the Congress leader from Jamarkhandi area.

“The plan is pretty simple. Murugesh wants Srishaila to contest from Bilagi and he wants his brother, Hanamantha, to contest from Jamarkhandi. He is also aspiring for a ticket. If talks with Srishaila are fruitful, then even if Murugesh loses, his brother Hanamantha and Srishaila, who is going to be loyal to him, will still have a chance and he will be able to retain power through them,” the source added.

However, according to him, Murugesh’s plan is facing a setback, especially since the high command has now asked for a second survey of candidates.

“They are still conducting ground-level surveys. Once that is done, only the high command will decide which candidate to pick. Murugesh may be Yeddyurappa’s right-hand man and his family members own considerable chunks of land in Mudhol and Bilagi. But the major problem is the Congress MLA, JT Patil. Patil is a well-liked politician and a people’s leader. He is seen as an honest and humble politician whose name has not been tarnished by corruption,” the source added.

According to Congress insiders, the BJP approached several of its MLAs in Bagalakote and is also holding talks with a few of them.

“In Bagalakote, a majority of the people are Lingayats, which is why the BJP has always won in the district. But after the corruption scandal, in the 2013 elections, only Mudhol BJP MLA Govind Karjol managed to win because he is seen as an honest man. In the BJP, there are no other OBC strongmen apart from Karjol. That is why they are now holding talks with a lot of Congress leaders here,” the source said.

Party insiders say that the demand for a separate Lingayat religion and the support generated by Congress leaders has been successful in breaking the Lingayat vote bank in the area. “That’s why the BJP is now eyeing the OBC vote bank. They know they will not win a majority by relying on the dominant Lingayat votes,” the source added.

Meanwhile, a Congress source said that for over a year, BJP has been trying to get the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen run by Assaduddin Owaisi in order to break into the Muslim vote bank by allowing his party’s candidates to contest in Bagalakote.

“They also had made a backroom deal with Owaisi. Owaisi has visited Bagalakote on several occasions in the last year and if his party contests, the Congress will lose some of the Muslim votes. This way, even a Congress- Social Democratic Party of India alliance will not really work in the region,” the source says.



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