In Old Mysore region, close race between Congress’ schemes and JD(S)’ saffron turn

The Congress is relying heavily on the popularity of its five guarantees, while the BJP-JD(S) alliance is harping that the state has gone bankrupt because of the schemes, leaving no money to spend on anything else, especially drought compensation.
HD Kumaraswamy (left) and DK Shivakumar
HD Kumaraswamy (left) and DK ShivakumarFile image
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As 14 Lok Sabha constituencies in Karnataka prepare to go to the polls on Friday, April 26, the parties are finding it too close to call. The early assurance demonstrated by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Janata Dal (Secular) [JD(S)] combine against the Congress seems to have settled down and the contest has become more of a level playing field. This includes seats in the Old Mysore region, including Mysore-Kodagu, Mandya, and Hassan. The selection of candidates in all three constituencies saw its share of drama and came after a drawn out process.

The decision of the JD(S) to ally with the BJP has resulted in a two-party race in the entire state. There are no notable independents in the fray, with the possible exception of Dingaleshwar Swami from Fakireeshwara Math, who was to contest from Dharwad, which goes to the polls on May 7. But as of April 23, he withdrew his nomination and threw his weight behind the Congress to avoid splitting of votes. 

At a time when Karnataka is experiencing one of its most severe droughts and an acute water shortage, the ruling Congress is relying heavily on the support of the people because of its five guarantees, while the BJP-JD(S) alliance is harping that the state has gone bankrupt because of the schemes, leaving no money to spend on anything else, especially drought compensation. Despite the Congress government’s attempt to divert attention by blaming the BJP-led Union government for the lack of funds for drought relief, voters who own land and are engaged in agriculture feel that the state could have paid them the relief amount and collected it later from the Union government if they had not spent money on the five guarantees.

The guarantees, three of which were targeted towards women, are expected to make a difference for the Congress, as 17 out of the 28 constituencies in the state have more women voters. The Congress has fielded six women candidates.

Rumblings in JD(S) after alliance with BJP

Post the Karnataka Assembly elections, where the JD(S) posted a disastrous showing winning only 19 seats, the party began slowly moving towards an alliance with the BJP. The move was met with a lot of resistance inside the JD(S) and many party members quit by the time the alliance was crystallised around September last year. A good chunk were Muslim leaders, notably senior vice-president Syed Shafiulla and other cadres. CM Ibrahim, the state president, was expelled from the party a couple of months later and a new body was announced with HD Kumaraswamy at the helm.

The alliance with the BJP has resulted in the JD(S) contesting in only three seats – Mandya, Hassan, and Kolar. In Bengaluru Rural, JD(S) supremo Deve Gowda’s son-in-law CN Manjunath, the eminent cardiologist, is contesting on a BJP ticket. He faces the incumbent MP DK Suresh, the brother of Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar.

In an interview with The Hindu, Kumaraswamy, speaking about the alliance, said that though they would have won three to four seats independently, it would have required money and that was a tough proposition for the regional party. “This election is crucial for us. We need to bounce back (from the Assembly election performance).” He also said that apart from minor bickerings, the district-level workers from both parties were working well together.

That might not be a completely accurate picture. Last year, the government completed the delimitation process for taluk panchayats and zilla panchayats and elections are expected to be held sometime this year after the completion of the Lok Sabha elections. For district-level party workers who aspire to contest, these local body elections are crucial as winning is a way to rise in the party. In fact, one of the reasons given for BJP’s Pratap Simha not getting an LS ticket in the Mysore-Kodagu constituency was that he had not shown any interest in preparing the ground for these taluk and zilla panchayat elections. Now, with the alliance, there have been serious rumblings about how the two parties will accommodate them for the elections.

Two newbies face off in Mysore-Kodagu

In the end, the BJP named Yaduveer Krishnadatta Chamaraja Wadiyar, the scion of the Mysuru royal family and a political newbie, banking on the city’s enduring love for their royals. The Congress candidate is the party district president M Lakshman, a first-time contestant and an unknown face. Yaduveer is relying on the work of his family, the Wodeyars, in establishing Mysuru as a model city. He has also expressed his continued support for BJP-RSS’ Hindutva plan. His great-grandfather Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar was also the founder-president of the Vishva Hindu Parishad. Lakshman, on the other hand, has been talking about the Congress guarantees and has also prepared his own manifesto for Mysuru’s development. A sour note for Congress here is that they are not in a position to attack Yaduveer because they have been instrumental in building the image of the royal family and its inextricable link to Mysuru. A volte-face now would be counterproductive for them.

The Lok Sabha constituency comprises eight Assembly segments — Madikeri, Virajpet, Periyapatna, Hunsur, Chamundeshwari, Krishnaraja, Chamaraja, and Narasimharaja. Out of these, Congress won five seats, JD(S) two, and BJP has the lone seat of Krishnaraja. It is also the home district of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah.

With the predominance of the Vokkaliga community in the region, the JD(S), seen as the Vokkaliga party, will not have an easy time of it as the community vote seems to be split at the time. Academician and longtime political observer Muzaffar Assadi said that a swing vote of around 40,000 to 50,000 might be the deciding factor in both Mysore as well as in Mandya, where Kumaraswamy is contesting.

“Vokkaligas have to decide whom they will support and that will make a difference. The majority of the women voters are likely to support Congress because of the guarantees. The minority vote will also largely go to the Congress as those who earlier supported the JD(S) are unhappy with its alliance with the BJP,” Assadi said.

The Congress is also expected to enjoy the support of the majority of Dalit and Other Backward Class (OBC) votes in the constituency. Amongst the OBCs, the Kuruba community – to which Siddaramaiah belongs – has a large presence.

A battle for Vokkaliga votes in Mandya

In Mandya, Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil’s candidature was set aside after Sumalatha, the independent incumbent MP, refused to back down from contesting. After protracted discussions, Sumalatha agreed and joined the BJP officially and Kumaraswamy himself agreed to contest. While Sumalatha expressed support for Kumaraswamy’s candidature, she has not campaigned for him.

Popular Kannada actor Darshan, who has always campaigned for Sumalatha, is openly supporting Congress candidate Venkataramane Gowda, better known as ‘Star Chandru’. While Kumaraswamy has enjoyed huge support in Mandya (the support has not extended to his son, Nikhil, who lost to Sumalatha in 2019), his opponent, a successful businessman and one of the richest candidates, has a lot of spending power.

This is another place where there is a proxy war between DK Shivakumar and Kumaraswamy to establish their dominance over Lingayats. There is a certain section of Shivakumar supporters who are unhappy that there is no announcement of when he will become CM. But it is unclear whether they will support Kumaraswamy.

Kumaraswamy’s overtures to the BJP by wearing a saffron shawl when protests broke out over the removal of a saffron flag raised eyebrows, but it is unlikely to earn him any favours in this region, where raising communal issues has not translated to increased vote share.

Out of eight Assembly segments – Malavalli, Mandya, Maddur, Melukote, Srirangapatna, Nagamangala, Krishnarajpete, and Krishnarajanagara – the Congress holds six seats, one went to independent candidate (who supports Congress), while the JD(S) has only one seat.

This also points to the BJP’s inability to gain any foothold in the Vokkaliga heartland using divisive communal issues. Even the infamous fictitious Nanje Gowda-Uri Gowda tale drew them further from the Vokkaliga votes. Vokkaligas see BJP as a Lingayat-dominated party. The JD(S)’ alliance, observers say, might also seem to Vokkaligas as if their leaders, Deve Gowda and Kumaraswamy, are playing second fiddle to Lingayats.

In the battle for Vokkaliga votes, Shivakumar criticised BJP leaders and Kumaraswamy who had met Adichunchunagiri seer Nirmalanandanatha Swami to get his blessings before the elections. Shivakumar questioned Kumaraswamy and Yediyurappa about the propriety of meeting the Vokkaliga caste seer after bringing down the government of a Vokkaliga CM (referring to the toppling of the Kumaraswamy-led Cong-JD(S) government in 2019). In turn, Kumaraswamy questioned how Shivakumar, who says he is everybody’s leader, protects the interests of Vokkaligas. The community is firmly behind him, Kumaraswamy affirmed.

Popular youngsters to fight it out in Hassan

In Hassan, known as the JD(S) stronghold, incumbent MP Prajwal Revanna of the JD(S)  is contesting against another youngster, Shreyas Patel of the Congress, who lost to Prajwal’s father and Kumaraswamy’s brother HD Revanna by a thin margin of 3,152 votes from Holenarasipura in the 2023 Assembly elections. Shreyas is the grandson of former minister G Puttaswamy Gowda. The two families have been contesting against each other since 1985, when Puttaswamy as an independent candidate had contested against Deve Gowda.

Out of the eight Assembly constituencies – Kadur, Shravanabelagola, Arasikere, Belur, Hassan, Holenarasipura, Arkalgud, and Sakleshpura – JD(S) has four seats while the Congress and BJP have two seats each.

Shreyas holds a lot of goodwill due to his grandfather and is popular among older voters, especially in the Holenarasipura area. While the JD(S) has a lot of ground support, the alliance has sat most uncomfortably in this region, where BJP ex-MLA Preetham Gowda and his workers have had an acrimonious relationship with JD(S) workers and Revanna’s family, who are based out of Hassan. After some convincing, Preetham has started to campaign for the BJP but not really for Prajwal. This is also the district where party workers from both the JD(S) and BJP are demanding answers about how the alliance is going to accommodate them for taluk and zilla panchayat elections. A senior journalist on the ground said a hurried meeting organised two weeks ago by Revanna and BJP’s Karnataka in-charge for the Lok Sabha elections Radha Mohan Das with party workers on this matter ended without any resolution.

As of now, neither the JD(S) nor the BJP have announced that they will be fighting future elections together. And as seen with JD(S)’ earlier alliances, their lifespans can be notoriously short.

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