Party keen on wresting constituency from the BJP
Belgaum, the biggest district in the State in terms of geographical area, has 18 Assembly constituencies. As Lok Sabha polls near, the Congress is set to go all out to snatch the Belgaum parliamentary constituency from the Bharatiya Janata Party, which tasted victory in the last two elections.
Of the 18 Assembly constituencies, the Belgaum LS constituency is spread over eight, namely Arabhavi, Bailhongal, Belgaum North, Belgaum South, Belgaum Rural, Gokak, Ramdurg and Saundatti Yellamma.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi started the poll campaign from Belgaum, indicating the importance that the party has given to the constituency in the border district, where factions of Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti (MES) are still active.
Like many other districts in the State, the Congress has not finalised its candidate for the Belgaum constituency, which was once considered the bastion of the Congress. In the last 15 general elections, only on four occasions has Belgaum been represented by non-Congress candidates.
Such was the influence of the Congress in the constituency that until 1996, it was represented successively by the Congress, with Balavantrao Nagesharao Datar, who won thrice; Shanmukhappa Basappa Sidnal, who won four times in a row; and Appaya Karavirappa Kotrashetti, who won twice. In 1996, Janata Dal’s Shivanand Koujalagi snatched away the seat from the Congress and BJP’s Babagouda Patil won it in 1998, and went on to become a Union Minister. The Congress won back the seat in 1999, with Amarsinh Patil, but subsequently the BJP’s Suresh Angadi won it in 2004, and retained it in 2009. Mr. Angadi is BJP’s candidate again (although not formally announced) and is banking on the ‘Modi wave’ to enter the Parliament for the third time.
However there is a slight change in the number of MLAs each party holds in this constituency when compared to the last election. While there is no difference in the number of Congress MLAs (three), the BJP has lost one from the last Assembly elections and has four MLAs now. The Belgaum South Assembly segment represented by the BJP candidate last time, is now represented by an Independent Sambhaji Patil of the MES.
At present, the Belgaum District Congress Committee (Rural) president Laxmi R. Hebbalkar, is the frontrunner for party ticket. Ms. Hebbalkar contested on Congress ticket in the Belgaum Rural Assembly Constituency and ended up in third place. Recently, a few persons in the district opposed her candidature for the Lok Sabha. However, the prominence given to her during Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Bharat Nirman’ rally in Belgaum recently gave a clear indication that her name has almost been finalised. According to party sources, apart from V.S. Sadhunavar, board member of the KLE Society, the name of Gokak MLA Ramesh Jarkiholi is also in the list of main aspirants.In JD(S) camp
With regard to the Janata Dal (Secular), which has almost lost its base consequent to its main leaders Umesh V. Katti and Balachandra Jarkiholi joining the BJP after the last Assembly elections, the contest seems to be more symbolic and the party is searching for candidates.
There are indications that MLA Sambhajirao Patil of the MES or another leader from the party are contesting the election, which might prove to be a headache for the BJP as MES might draw the Marathi-speaking voters who are in considerable number in the constituency towards it.