Vokkaliga politics holds key to November 3 bypolls

Vokkaliga politics holds the key to November 3 bypolls

While the Vokkaliga community has been the largest vote base for regional party JD(S), both Congress and BJP are looking to sway these votes their way

Earlier this week, Health and Medical Education Minister K Sudhakar minced no words as he launched an attack on the Congress, pitting the dominant Vokkaliga community against the party ahead of the November 3 bypolls. 

“How will Congress address the demands of Vokkaligas of the state when it failed to take care of Vokkaligas within the party,” Sudhakar, identifying himself as a Vokkaliga, asked during a campaign rally at the poll-bound Rajarajeshwarinagar. He was earlier with the
Congress. 

In another rally last week, JD(S) leader Nikhil Kumaraswamy declared that H D Devegowda and H D Kumaraswamy would forever remain the leaders of the Vokkaliga community and “none could usurp their position.” 

Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president D K Shivakumar and his brother Bangalore Rural MP D K Suresh, both Vokkaligas, are also said to be banking on the community’s votes to be consolidated. 

The Rajarajeshwarinagar and Sira bypolls have one common thread - politics over who holds the bragging rights over the Vokkaliga community, which accounts for 12-15% of the state’s population. The community forms a sizable number of votes in both the segments, which all parties are trying to woo. 

While the Vokkaliga community has been the largest vote base for regional party JD(S), both Congress and BJP are looking to sway these votes their way. 

Much is at stake for Vokkaliga leaders from all parties - Shivakumar, Revenue Minister R Ashoka and Deputy Chief Minister C N Ashwath Narayan of the BJP and of course, Kumaraswamy - and this has made the bypolls a proxy war between them.  

In Rajarajeshwarinagar, the JD(S) has fielded local clansman V Krishnamurthy, while Congress has picked debutant Kusuma Hanumantharayappa. Except for BJP’s candidate Munirathna, an OBC,  the other two are Vokkaligas. 

In Sira, JD(S) candidate Ammajamma, Congress’ T B Jayachandra and BJP’s C M Rajesh Gowda are Kunchitiga Vokkaliga. BJP sources say they expect a split in the Vokkaliga votes and the party hopes to gain votes of Kaadu
Gollas. 

According to poll managers, Rajarajeshwarinagar has over one lakh Vokkaligas among 4.60 lakh voters. In Sira, there are nearly 60,000 Vokkaligas - a majority of them Kunchitiga - out of 2.15 lakh voters. 

It is said that the JD(S) is already wary of Shivakumar’s growing clout in the Vokkaliga community. In parallel, the BJP is looking to make inroads into the Old Mysuru region by infiltrating this community. 

That the Vokkaligas are politically dominant was made known as recently as the 2018 Assembly elections. Thanks to consolidation of the community’s votes, the JD(S) won big in the Old Mysuru region, with even the then incumbent chief minister Siddaramaiah losing from the Chamundeshwari segment. 

“The bypolls are in constituencies that are part of the Old Mysuru region, which has traditionally been the stronghold of the Vokkaliga community,” political analyst Sandeep Shastri said. “These two constituencies, more specifically, have a significant presence of this dominant caste. Caste is a critical factor.”

Shastri said he expected a split in Vokkaliga votes at Sira, whereas the caste factor could boil down to a contest between the Congress and the JD(S) from which the BJP can gain.