How BJP yielded to 'Go back, Shobha!' demand in Chikkamagaluru

Shobha Karandlaje, the only woman BJP candidate to secure victory in the 2019 elections from southern states, encountered a tide of anti-incumbency sentiment in her constituency, preventing her from seeing a third term from Udupi-Chikkamagaluru segment.
Shobha Karandlaje
Shobha Karandlaje Image: Bhuvan Malik
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The resounding cry of "Go back, Shobha!" reverberated across Karnataka's Chikamagaluru, capturing the simmering discontent within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) towards their current Member of Parliament, Shobha Karandlaje. Their calls were finally heard as the party moved Shobha to Bengaluru North constituency and assigned the Udupi-Chikkamagaluru Lok Sabha seat to the former minister Kota Srinivas Poojary.

Shobha was the only woman candidate who won from southern states from BJP in the 2019 elections. A two-time MP from Udupi-Chikkamagaluru, Shobha faced a wave of vehement anti-incumbency sentiments, evident in a string of protests orchestrated by party members in Chikkamagaluru and Udupi. The Chikkamagaluru faction of the BJP spearheaded protests against Shobha's candidacy, initially appealing to the high command to refrain from fielding her in the Udupi-Chikkmagaluru constituency.

BJP had to nominate a candidate for the Bengaluru North constituency as the incumbent MP and former Chief Minister Sadananda Gowda had announced retirement from electoral politics. Meanwhile, in the Udupi-Chikkamagaluru, BJP leader CT Ravi – a four-time MLA who lost in the Assembly elections in 2023 – and Pramod Madhwaraj, a former Congress minister who switched sides to the BJP in 2022, had aspired for a ticket from the constituency.

The party workers initiated a ‘Go back Shobha’ campaign on social media and some even wrote letters to BJP national president JP Nadda urging them against nominating Shobha from their constituency. Letters were also sent urging the leader to nominate CT Ravi instead. Sources told TNM that CT Ravi was instrumental in organising the dissent against Shobha.

In response, party observers, including former home minister and MLA Araga Jnanendra and Bhanuprakash, engaged in discussions with local leaders and disgruntled party members on March 9. The dissent intensified when the workers held a protest amidst the discussion as they hurled ‘Go back Shobha’ slogans.

A BJP member from Jagara in Chikkamagaluru, who led the 'Go back, Shobha' campaign, told TNM, "She has failed to address the concerns of our district. She remains inaccessible to party workers and hasn't fulfilled the promises made during her tenure. Our morale is dwindling, making it challenging to garner support without her engagement. If she continues as our candidate, many of us will opt for NOTA."

He added, “Despite serving two terms as the MP, she consistently failed to connect with the workers. How much longer can we expect people to support her merely because of Modi's name? How much longer can we rally votes for an MP who neglects to visit her own constituency? While it's true that any BJP candidate can secure victory here, it's crucial not to overlook the efforts of us workers. We should not be taken for granted.” 

Not just in Chikkamagaluru, Shobha also faced criticism from leaders of the fishermen's union in Udupi during a meeting concerning the prolonged delay in completing the construction of a highway segment from Malpe to Udupi. In this meeting with National Highways Department officials, MP Shobha and Udupi MLA Yashpal Suvarna, Kishore Suvarna, a representative of the fishermen's union, confronted the BJP MP about the lack of progress in the construction of the crucial highway stretch. A video capturing the exchanges went viral, showcasing the frustration of union members regarding unaddressed grievances.

One participant in the meeting expressed frustration, saying, "We've supported you for 10 years. What have you accomplished for us? Have you engaged with the residents of that area and convened a meeting? You haven't. Why not? Are you not our elected representative? Don't you bear responsibilities? Why haven't you taken any steps regarding that road?"

Another attendee challenged Shobha's claim that Union Minister Nitin Gadkari had spoken with her over the phone. "You claimed that Minister Nitin Gadkari communicated with you. No information has been shared with us, not even a notification. Provide it in writing," they demanded. The 3.5 km stretch of the highway from Malpe to Udupi has deteriorated and is plagued by potholes.

The fishermen’s association had wanted the BJP to field former Minister Pramod Madhwaraj as its candidate for the Udupi-Chikkamagaluru constituency. Madhwaraj, an OBC politician, was fielded by the Congress-JD(S) coalition but could not dislodge Shobha Karandlaje. He later joined the BJP.

With the BJP now nominating former minister Kota Srinivas Poojary for Udupi-Chikkamagaluru, the party aims to consolidate support from the Billava community in coastal Karnataka. Notably, this marks Srinivas Poojary's debut in Lok Sabha elections after serving two terms in the Legislative Council. The Billavas, classified under the Other Backward Classes (OBC) list, wield considerable political influence, particularly in the coastal belt, and represent a substantial portion of the party's cadre.

The historical context

Udupi Lok Sabha constituency, once a Congress stronghold, witnessed a shift in 1996, with the BJP making inroads. Similarly, Chikkamagaluru, historically under Congress influence, experienced a political upheaval in 1996, paving the way for BJP dominance. Since the formation of the Udupi-Chikkamagaluru constituency in 2008, the Congress has refrained from nominating candidates from Chikkamagaluru district, a decision contested by some within the party.

Chikkamagaluru's prominence in national politics dates back to 1978 when former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi strategically contested from this constituency following the Congress' electoral setbacks post-emergency. However, communal tensions over the Sri Guru Dattatreya Baba Budan Swamy dargah issue led to a decline in the Congress's influence, marking a significant shift in the political landscape.

Of the eight Assembly seats in the Udupi-Chikkamagaluru constituency, the Congress has MLAs in Chikkamagaluru, Sringeri, Tarikere, and Mudigere, while the BJP won the remaining four constituencies of Kaup, Udupi, Karkala and Kundapura—all situated in Udupi district. In the 2018 Assembly elections, the BJP swept seven seats, while the Congress won one seat.

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