Lok Sabha polls 2024: Karnataka is witnessing the rise of political daughters

Women voters outnumber men in 17 of the state’s 28 LS constituencies and could play a major role in the elections, which is witnessing an increased focus on facilities and freebies for the segment.
Lok Sabha polls 2024: Karnataka is witnessing the rise of political daughters
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The Karnataka battleground between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party-Janata Dal (Secular) combine for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, is witnessing, for the first time, a battle led by daughters of politicians. There is also an increased focus on facilities and freebies for women whose votes could make or break the fate of both the Congress and the BJP.

The BJP has fielded two women, Union Minister Shobha Karandlaje (Bengaluru North) and political novice Gayatri Siddeshwara (Davanagere), wife of former Union minister GM Siddeshwara. But the Congress has sprung a surprise by fielding six women among its 28 candidates for the Lok Sabha, unprecedented in the state’s history. The results may indicate that this was a rather shrewd choice, given that three of the party’s five guarantees of freebies to the people of the state are aimed at women.

Four of the Congress candidates are daughters of politicians, one a granddaughter, and the last, the wife of a politician. The choice is intriguing because though dynasty politics is now the norm, it is almost always the son who ‘inherits’ the mantle of a politician. His grandmother Indira might have taken up her father Jawaharlal Nehru’s legacy, but Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is the prime example of this ‘natural’ choice, as his sister Priyanka has been kept only as a backup. A daughter inheriting the mantle like Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule or former J&K CM Mehbooba Mufti, the daughter of former Union home minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, is rare, even when the politician, like Pawar, doesn’t have sons.

In Karnataka, Chandraprabha Urs and Roopakala Shashidhar are at the vanguard of daughters who have taken up their father’s legacy. Former chief minister Devaraj Urs did not have sons, but Chandraprabha stepped up and represented his Assembly constituency Hunsur. Roopakala, a sitting MLA (KGF) and the daughter of minister KH Muniyappa, did better. She got to be his heir despite the politician having a son.

The case of Nisha Yogeshwar, daughter of BJP MLC CP Yogeshwar, who wants to join the Congress party is an indicator of the mindset of politicians in general on political daughters. Congress state president DK Shivakumar (whose son Akaash is not yet 25 – the minimum age to contest elections in India) has not allowed Nisha to join his party on the grounds that it will go against her father’s politics. “I cannot come between a father and his daughter, it is not our Vokkaliga tradition,” he has said on record, despite Nisha publicly requesting him to admit her.

Into this scenario come the political daughters, taking on the might of strong male opponents. Two of them, Sowmya Reddy (Bengaluru South) and Geetha Shivrajkumar (Shivamogga), have contested elections earlier. Sowmya was an MLA in 2013, while Geetha has never won an election but contested the Shivmogga Lok Sabha seat on the JDS ticket in 2014.

Sowmya Reddy did go through the Youth Congress election process and political grounding given by her father, Minister Ramalinga Reddy. Geetha, however, was never brought into politics by her father, former CM S Bangarappa, though both her younger brothers Kumar Bangarappa and Madhu Bangarappa have fought and won multiple elections and were groomed for politics by their father.

Sitting MLA Latha Mallikarjun (Harapanahalli), former deputy CM MP Prakash’s daughter, came into electoral politics only after her brother MP Ravindra, who inherited their father’s legacy, died. Congress, despite being a dynastic party, did not give her a ticket and wooed her only after she won as an independent and proved her worth.

Political rookie and Congress state working president Satish Jarkiholi’s daughter Priyanka (Chikkodi), however, has been given a ticket – significantly her younger brother Rahul is 24 and below the minimum age to fight elections. But Priyanka has expressed pride that she is the first of her generation from the Jarkiholi political family to get into politics.

Minister Shivanand Patil’s daughter Samyukta (Bagalkote) comes with even more assurance. Patil does not have a son and had told this reporter in 2018: “My daughter is my political heir.”

Both Priyanka and Samyukta are contesting in constituencies that are strong on patriarchy and conservative thinking, but the breezy confidence they exude and the staunch support of their fathers shows a slowly evolving change of attitude towards political daughters – a stark contrast to the attitude of former CMs Bangarappa, SM Krishna, HD Deve Gowda, BS Yediyurappa or Ramakrishna Hegde.

Anjali Nimbalkar (Uttar Kannada), the granddaughter of former Maharashtra CM and Union home minister SB Chavan, is a veteran who has contested Lok Sabha and Assembly polls in Karnataka and has faced victories and losses. The sixth Congress woman candidate, Prabha Mallikarjun (Davanagere), is a political newbie. She’s the wife of Minister SS Mallikarjun and daughter-in-law of Congress warhorse and long-term party treasurer Shamanur Shivashankarappa. She is also the only one facing another woman, BJP’s Gayatri Siddeshwara, as her rival.

A woman politician seeking votes in conservative constituencies has played out well in the past in the Lok Sabha polls, be it Tejaswini Gowda winning Kanakapura in 2004, Sumalatha in Mandya, Shobha Karandlaje in Udupi-Chikmagalur in 2019, Ramya in Mandya in 2013, Rathnamala Savanoor in Priyanka Jarkiholi’s constituency Chikkodi in 1996 or Margaret Alva in Karwar (now Uttar Kannada) in 1999 and Basavarajeshwari Jagirdhar multiple times in Bellary (now Ballari). Ground reports from the state indicate that women are happy with the state’s guarantees, which could play a major factor in the voting, as women voters outnumber men in 17 of the state’s 28 constituencies.

Sowmya Reddy’s father is the state’s Transport Minister who implemented the Shakti scheme allowing free bus travel for women in the state. One of the highlights of her election campaign in Bengaluru South is to ask women voters: “Who gave you free bus pass to travel?” And bask in the reflected gratitude.

Sowmya Aji was a political journalist who covered Karnataka for over 25 years. She now works as a software engineer in the US.

Views expressed are the author’s own.

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