Congress' new face aims to unseat BJP's two-time MP

JD(S) nominee's withdrawal may help Grand Old Party

Congress' new  face aims to unseat BJP's  two-time MP

In the Belgaum Lok Sabha constituency, the winning candidate has traditionally romped home by huge margin of votes. But this time, it could be different.

The contest in this North Karnataka seat is essentially between the sitting MP, Suresh Angadi of the BJP, and Lakshmi Hebbalkar of the Congress. And many believe both are neck and neck.

While Angadi aims to win the seat for the third time in a row, Hebbalkar aspires maiden entry into Parliament. Voters in Belgaum have traditionally preferred the incumbent but this trend could change.

What could work for Hebbalkar is that the JD(S) candidate, Nasir Bagwan, has withdrawn from the race and joined the Congress.

His name, however, would continue to be on the ballot. Since 1998, JD(S) candidates have consistently garnered at least 60,000 votes. Even Bagwan was expected to spoil the prospects of Hebbalkar. Candidates of other parties and independents have not struck a chord with the voters who do not even seem to be aware of them.

The “wave” of the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, could help Angadi in the Assembly segments of Belgaum North, South, Rural, Bailhongal and Savadatti-Yellamma. In Ramdurg, Congress MLA Ashok Pattan does not seem to be popular with people. Besides, the KJP’s merger with the BJP could favour Angadi who has been seeking votes on the “Gujarat model of development” and the “pro-farmer” food processing industry.

The Congress campaign is being led by Satish Jarkiholi, the excise and Belgaum district in-charge minister. The Jarkiholi brothers hold sway over Arabhavi and Gokak Assembly segments and some polling stations bordering Gokak taluk.

Another advantage to Hebbalkar is that she is the first female candidate in this constituency and scores of women voters may find her candidature appealing. She also claims to be a descendent of Kittur Rani Channamma.

In the constituency, the BJP has MLAs in Belgaum Rural, Bailhongal, Savadatti-Yellamma and Arabhavi Assembly segments whereas Belgaum North, Gokak and Ramdurg are represented by Congress MLAs. Belgaum South is held by Sambhaji Patil of the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti (MES) who has been canvassing for Hebbalkar.

While Satish’s brother Balachandra Jarkiholi is the BJP legislator from Arabhavi, small crowds at the party’s rallies in the constituency have given mixed signals to voters.
Caste could be another important factor in the Belgaum constituency, with the Lingayats, Kurubas, Muslims and Marathas being the dominant communities.

While Angadi and Hebbalkar are both Lingayat, their subcastes could tilt the balance either way.

The office-bearers of Kuruba Sangha have been canvassing for the Congress whereas the Maratha community is inclined to support the BJP for its “Hindutva agenda”. A section of MES leaders, however, has been supporting the Congress in Belgaum taluk, creating a divide in the pro-Maharashtra outfit.

In Belgaum, there are a total of 15,75,323 voters — 8,03,278 male, 7,71,911 female and 134 others.

A total of 15 candidates, including Ramesh alias Suresh Kadlaskar of the Bahujan Samaj Party, Dayanand Chikmath of the Samajwadi Party and Muttappa Angadi of the Aam Aadmi Party, are in fray.

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