Climb to Chamundeshwari fraught with obstacles for Siddaramaiah

The Chamundeshwari constituency, where Chief Minister Siddaramaiah is waging a high-stakes political battle against his friend-turned-foe and sitting MLA G T Deve Gowda of the JD(S), is now the cynosure of all eyes.

Siddaramaiah, who is nurturing a desire to continue as the chief minister if his party retains power, is facing a formidable challenge as his adversaries have joined forces to defeat him. While the BJP is said to have entered into a tacit understanding with the JD(S), the Dalits, who are in sizable numbers, may lean towards the regional party which has the Mayawati-led BSP as its alliance partner.

The BJP has fielded a lesser-known face, S R Gopal Rao, who was an RSS functionary. Rao belongs to the Brahmin community and his choice as the candidate is seen as an effort to ensure that there is no division of Vokkaliga votes. This is despite the fact that the party’s candidate in the 2008 Assembly polls, C N Manje Gowda, was the runner-up and secured an impressive 41,529 votes.

Siddaramaiah’s one-time friends, V Srinivas Prasad, a prominent Dalit leader, and A H Vishwanath, a Kuruba leader, are trying to settle old scores.

Prasad’s unceremonious removal from the Cabinet in 2016 is said to have irked a section of Dalits in the constituency. Similarly, Vishwanath was forced to quit the Congress for questioning Siddaramaiah’s style of functioning. While Prasad is now in the BJP, Vishwanath is with the JD(S).

The likely consolidation of the Vokkaliga community against him has come as a big worry for the chief minister. Vokkaligas, who form the main chunk of voters with 75,000 of the total 2.89 lakh, hold the key to this contest. And the JD(S) has been making all-out efforts to pit the community against Siddaramaiah, who belongs to the backward Kurubas.

Besides, the chief minister returning to Chamundeshwari in order to make way for his son Yathindra in Varuna constituency, which he is currently representing, and his decision to contest from a second seat in Badami, appear to have not gone down well with the voters.

His rivals in the constituency have latched on to these issues to corner him. While he has been accused of promoting his son to be able to switch back to his old constituency, his Badami contest has been depicted as the acceptance of defeat in Chamaundeshwari.

However, Siddaramaiah has been projecting his contest from Chamundeshwari  — a constituency he had won five times in the past — as the return of the prodigal son. He had shifted to Varuna after delimitation in 2008 when many parts of the erstwhile Chamundeshwari, where he had a hold, were moved to Varuna.

Siddaramaiah’s missteps over the years may have antagonised the electorate, but the JD(S) candidate, who is also the sitting MLA, has not done anything significant to win over voters, making it a close contest. The May 12 polls have all the trappings of the nail-biting 2006 Chamundeshwari bypoll when Siddaramaiah won by a wafer-thin margin of 257 votes.

The battle of ballots, finally, hinges on caste equations. Support of the Ahinda (Kannada acronym for Muslims, Dalits and backward classes) communities, which together constitute 1.20 lakh voters, is crucial for Siddaramaiah to sail through the contest. He is hoping that his government’s decision to accord a religious minority status to Lingayats could work in his favour. The constituency has about 30,000 Lingayat voters.

As the campaign draws to a close, Siddaramaiah has started making an emotional appeal to the voters to back him in what he claims to be his tenth and last electoral battle, besides saying that he will continue as the chief minister.

It will be interesting to see whether this emotional plea will douse the angst of the people and persuade them to elect Siddaramaiah for the sixth time or will his political career come to an end in Chamundeshwari from where it all began in 1983. 

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