For the last 13 years, Congress leader Amrit Shenoy has been a loyal Congress worker in Udupi. But when the party's high command decided to hand over the Udupi-Chikkamagaluru Lok Sabha seat to the JD(S) as part of the seat-sharing alliance struck by the two parties, Amrit turned dissident and decided to contest as an independent candidate.
This means that he will be making his electoral debut against the coalition alliance candidate Pramod Madhwaraj and BJP MP Shobha Karandlaje in the Lok Sabha elections this month. "I want to see Udupi as a developed place. I was born and brought up here and I joined the Congress to do social service aggressively. For 13 years, I have given my heart and mind to Congress. But today, the Congress high command has taken an illogical decision to give up the seat to JD(S), so I have decided to contest," he says, speaking to TNM about his decision to enter the electoral fray.
The 41-year-old graduated from Volakadu High School in Udupi and has been a constant presence in the Congress party in the district over the years. His candidature as an independent has added an interesting twist to the fight between the two major leaders, Pramod Madhwaraj and Shobha Karandlaje in Udupi-Chikkamagaluru.
Unlike in other constituencies like Tumakuru where the Congress high command managed to convince rebel candidate Muddahanumegowda to withdraw his nomination, Amrit has decided to go ahead and contest the election from Udupi-Chikkamagaluru.
According to Amrit, Congress workers in the district are disappointed by the party's decision to hand over the seat to the JD(S) in spite of its limited presence in the two districts and that influenced his decision to contest. The JD(S) garnered only 14,895 votes in Udupi-Chikkamagaluru in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
"The voters in the district and in the Congress party are confused and they don't want to vote for the JD(S) or Shobha. They are disappointed that there is no Congress symbol here," he says.
He says that there is a need for an MP who is invested in local issues, something Shobha has been criticised for neglecting. "She has selectively fought for the justice of BJP workers killed but what about Vinayak Baliga, an RTI activist from Mangaluru. She did not speak about his death nor did she speak about the murder of Pravin Poojary in Udupi. What about the seven fishermen who disappeared off the coast of Goa? What did the MP do then? This sort of lack of commitment to voters is not acceptable. She has won due to Modi once but it cannot happen again," says Amrit.
Amrit is also unconcerned by his relative lack of popularity and believes that there is still time to convince voters to vote for him. "Unavailability of sand is affecting Udupi's economy and I want to resolve this issue if I am elected. The government earns during construction work through various taxes and a labourer, painter, steel dealer, tiles dealer will all get employed and get empowered. If they are empowered financially, they will spend money on hotels, jewellery shops and so on and the economy will thrive," he says explaining his vision.
But he is quick to add that he has not yet decided how he will solve the long-standing issue of sand mining in Udupi. "I will take comments of all stakeholders before coming to a decision on how to solve the sand issue," he says.
He adds that the concerns of coffee and arecanut growers of Chikkamagaluru district have been ignored for long. "In Chikkamagaluru, arecanut growers are grappling with yellow-leaf disease and coffee growers are under stress. We need policies to protect the farmers and common people. I want to represent all sections of the constituency in parliament," he says.
Amrit's decision to contest as an independent has also led to a division within the Congress party, particularly since he has forged a reputation of being a strong grassroots leader. "The workers of the party are confused by his decision to contest. He has worked closely with the party at the grassroots level and whether he wins the election or not, his decision has affected the Congress workers in Udupi and Chikkamagaluru", a Congress leader from the constituency told TNM.
Only two independent candidates have managed to win a Lok Sabha election in Karnataka's history and none in the last 52 years. With the elections just two weeks away, Amrit faces an uphill task in convincing voters about his credibility. He is also yet to decide whether he will resign from his position as member of the All-India Congress Committee (AICC). "For now, I am spending my time travelling to all places in the constituency and telling people about my work. I will take a decision on leaving AICC soon," he says.