Sitting Member of Parliament P C Gaddigou-dar of the BJP and Ajaykumar Sarnaik of the Congress are locked in a direct contest in this North Karnataka heartland constituency.
Hunashyal Ravi of the JD(S), former DG&IGP Shankar Bidari, Independent, and Khazi Kutubuddin of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are others in the fray here. The BJP has fielded its two-time MP Gaddigoudar, who has a good image and enjoys the support of the party workers. He belongs to the dominant Lingayat community. Congress candidate Sarnaik is a former State minister and hails from the other dominant community, Reddy.
The BJP is largely pinning its hopes on the ‘Modi wave’ and works done by the previous BJP government in the State. Its leaders claim that Gaddigoudar has done considerable work during his two terms.
“Although Gaddigoudar was in Opposition, he did his best to bring Central funds and implement projects to improve the life of the common man in the district. It is because of his relentless efforts that the long-standing demand for the Konnur bridge (constructed across Malaprabha river at Konnur in Naragund taluk) was fulfilled,” claimed BJP leader H R Nirani.
“The country has suffered a lot during the rule of the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre in the last 10 years. There is no security for people in the country. Though our soldiers are killed every day on the borders, there is no effective action taken by the Centre. Increasing poverty, terrorism and price rise have made people’s lives miserable. They are desperately looking for a change,” said BJP activist Narayan Kerur.
The Congress candidate is banking on the “achievements” of the UPA government and farmer-friendly projects launched by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah in the State.
“Today, most of the villages in the district have good roads and people have access to drinking water because of the Congress. It is the Congress that took care of providing better compensation and rehabilitation facilities for those who lost their land and properties to the Upper Krishna Project,” said Congress MLA from Bilagi, J T Patil. The BJP’s image had suffered a setback due to irregularities indulged in by its leaders and the party’s alleged divisive politics, he said.
The Congress has the advantage of the fact that seven of the eight MLAs from Bagalkot belong to the party.
Besides, the district has two ministers – Umashree and S R Patil. However, there are rumours that some Congress MLAs are ‘secretly’ supporting the BJP candidate, given the caste factor. If this is true, it may upset the Congress’ applecart.
More than anything else, the candidates are dependent on caste to help them romp home. Every party has its own ‘votebank’ of different castes and communities to fall back on.
Gaddigoudar is a Ganiga, a sub-caste of Lingayats, while Sarnaik belongs to the Reddy caste. It is believed that if all the sub-sects of the Lingayat community such as Ganiga, Panchamasali and Banajiga unite, Gaddigoudar may achieve a hat trick.
However, there are chances that some sub-sects may back other parties for different reasons. If this happens, Congress candidate Sarnaik has an edge over the BJP candidate. Bidari and Khazi too are leaving no stone unturned to win the elections.
It is too early to say conclusively about the prospects of Bidari, whom people identify as a bold police officer, and Khazi, who is known for his struggle for improving railway network in the region. But, they will make or mar the chances of the Congress and the BJP.
Nassir Khadri, a civil contractor from Hungund town, says, “If the strength of the MLAs and the ruling party in the State are taken into consideration, the Congress should win. If the caste factor works, it is the BJP which has an edge. If both these factors don’t work, it will be either Bidari or Khazi who will have the last laugh.”