In Shivamogga city constituency, former Deputy Cheif Minister KS Eshwarappa is eagerly looking for a political renaissance in the Karnataka Assembly polls, scheduled for May 12. The 69-year-old BJP leader, once a protege and now a rival of the party’s Chief Ministerial face BS Yeddyurappa, lost the 2013 polls by a huge margin. And in many ways, this is going to be a do-or-die battle for him.
In 2013, Eshwarappa came not second, not third, but fourth in race for the MLA seat. After losing the polls, the former BJP state president had to settle for an MLC post, and was subsequently made the Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council.
This time, despite speculation that he was not the favourite for the candidacy from the constituency, Eshwarappa managed to secure a ticket over Rudragowda – a Yeddyurappa loyalist, who had come second in the 2013 polls on a Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP) ticket – the party floated by a miffed Yeddyurappa when he left the BJP.
However, people in the constituency we spoke to feel Rudragowda might have been a better bet for the party.
Eshwarappa hails from the Kuruba community – the same as Chief Minister and Congress leader Siddaramaiah. In Shivamogga city, however, there are only 18,000 Kurubas, as per recent estimates, compared to 30,000 Brahmins and 35,000 Lingayats. The number of Vokkaligas is said to be 15,000. Muslims are undoubtedly the largest population group, with 55,000 people, followed by 40,000 SC/ST voters.
The incumbent MLA – Congress’s Prasannakumar – is a Brahmin, whereas JD(S) has fielded a Lingayat face – HN Niranjan – despite their traditional voter base being the Vokkaligas. And Rudragowda is a Lingayat.
So seemingly, the numbers are stacked against Eshwarappa as far as caste/community based voting goes.
Pradip, a student pursuing a career in chartered accountancy, said, “Compared to most other constituencies, this area has better civic amenities. People here vote mostly on the basis of religion/caste of the candidate.”
“Brahmins and Muslims are inclined to vote for the Congress candidate, and Lingayats for the JD(S) candidate,” he opined.
Pradip (third from left)
There are also questions over what the former Deputy Chief Minister has done for the constituency.
BS Munawar Sheikh, a fruit seller who identified himself as a Sunni Muslim, and a self-confessed Congress voter, said, “What did Eshwarappa do after he became the Deputy CM? He only acquired properties for himself,” he alleged.
BS Munawar Sheikh
Others feel that while Eshwarappa is not a bad candidate, they have misgivings over his recent stands.
Abbas, a trader who identifies himself as a Shia Muslim, said, “Unlike Sunnis, we are not against the BJP totally. We vote according to the candidate. Last time, I voted for Eshwarappa. I don’t think he is a bad person. But now he is only talking about Hindutva.”
But while Yeddyurappa may be a rival inside the party, could the very fact that he has rejoined the party this time around help Eshwarappa?
“Last time, Muslims and Christians had voted for the KJP as Yeddyurappa – unlike the BJP – is not communal. This time it would not be the same,” Abbas said.
Eshwarappa also has takers among those who believe Congress is unnecessarily appeasing Muslims for electoral gains – ignoring other sections of the population. Vinodha, a daily wage garment worker from the Banjara community said that she would vote for Eshwarappa only.
“There are not many infrastructural issues in the area except for a few drainage problems here and there. But the Congress does not do much for the SC/ST people, and only takes care of the Muslim,” she said.
“In 2008, when Yeddyurappa became CM and Eshwarappa was the MLA, we had voted for the party as it promised to build a temple for us. And they built it – but the Congress MLA did not do any work in his term to put electricity and some work which was left to be done did not take place,” she added.
There are also those who are voting for Modi.
Latha, a store-keeper in the heart of the city, said, “We expect better for our city. The Congress has not done much. When BJP was in power things were much better. Now the business is in a slump. When BJP comes to power everything will be up to the mark.”
The same was echoed by Sowmya, who said she will vote for the BJP. “I trust Modi. I do not know much about Siddaramaiah. The party (BJP) is anyway popular here and if the BJP government comes to power in the state, it will be good as the central government is also with BJP.”