Seasoned MP in tough competition

Seasoned MP in tough competition

Challenged by Cong minister’s son, BJP candidate faces anti-incumbency 

The withdrawal of nomination by the JD(S) candidate at the last moment has changed the political calculations in Uttara Kannada parliamentary constituency. It’s now a direct fight between the BJP and the Congress. 

Sitting MP Anant Kumar Hegde of the BJP is striving for victory for the fifth time, but he faces a tougher competition in the Congress candidate Prashant Deshpande, the son of Higher Education Minister R V Deshpande. The two parties are vying for the JD(S) votes after the latter’s candidate Shivanand Naik retreated.

Uttara Kannada (erstwhile Canara) constituency has eight Assembly segments: Karwar, Kumta, Bhatkal, Sirsi, Yellapur, Haliyal in Uttara Kannada district, and Khanapur and Kittur in Belgaum district. 

Having coastal, Malnad and semi-arid regions in the same constituency, candidates here have to win over the voters of different regions, languages, castes, and culture spread over a vast geographical area. Hegde won the seat in 1996, 1998, 2004 and 2009, but lost in 1999. 

Apart from Prashant Deshpande, other notable candidates are Raghavendra Thane of the AAP and Santosh Naik of the BSP. 

After withdrawing the nomination, Naik openly supported Hegde and even campaigned with him, but some JD(S) leaders in the district have joined the Congress. 

Former MLA Sunil Hegde of the JD(S) has, however, asked his party’s workers to vote against the Congress. 

The JD(S) stood third in the last Lok Sabha elections, but in the Assembly polls in 2013, it came second in three seats. Naik belongs to the Namadhari (Ediga) community – one of the major communities in the constituency. 

While the JD(S) votes are expected to be split between the Congress and the BJP, which of the two gets the bigger share remains to be seen. 

While the Congress hopes it will get the JD(S) votes as several leaders of that party joined it, the BJP feels Naik’s supporters will vote for its candidate as he had once been with it and was now backing it. 

Pluses and minuses 

The “Modi wave” seems to be working in this constituency to some extent as NaMo brigades were formed in villages much before the elections were announced. 

Though Hegde faces anti-incumbency at most places, he may still get many votes as workers of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar have been seeking votes in Modi’s name. The BJP had won four Assembly seats in 2008, but just one in 2013. 

For Prashant, his father’s sway over the region may come in handy, and he has tried to engage with people in the last five years through social service. He is also known to be polite and highly educated. 

The Congress workers are also highlighting the State government’s schemes. But there are many sections which do not like the elder Deshpande, saying he did not do much for the constituency despite being a minister for several years. 

Both the parties face factionalism, a fact they deny. Margaret Alva’s son Nivedith aspired for the Congress ticket. Though Nivedith and his supporters have been canvassing for Prashant, their efforts are being seen as “half-hearted”. In the BJP, politicians are canvassing for Modi and not the candidate. 

“The Hindutva Hegde is talking about will not bring development. Voters know that it was R V Deshpande who brought investments worth Rs 1,200 crore to the district,” claimed MLC, Shrikanth L Ghotnekar of the Congress. But BJP leader Raju Dhooli from Haliyal has asserted that Deshpande “failed” to develop the district.

For Deshpande, his son’s victory appears to be a “prestige issue”. He also roped in Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi to address a rally at Sirsi. Besides, the Congress has four MLAs and the support of independent MLAs. 

The issues being discussed are rehabilitation of the displaced, CRZ, filling tanks with Kali water, widening of national highway, the rumoured ban on areca nut, environmental concerns, protection of forest dwellers’ interests and railway line projects. 

Equally placed 

At present, the Congress and the BJP seem to be ahead in only one or two Assembly segments, and equally placed in the rest. In 2009, Hegde won by 22,769 votes. 

In Khanapur and Kittur constituencies, he got a lead of more than 28,000 votes. In Khanapur, Marathi voters, who supported the MES in Assembly polls, are considered BJP supporters in the general elections. 

But the Congress feels R V Deshpande’s works like sanctioning colleges and hostels in these areas and activities through his trust would favour it this time. But judging the political inclination of people in the constituency is as complex as its geography. 

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