Both Suresh C. Angadi of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Laxmi R. Hebbalkar of the Congress, contesting from the prestigious Belgaum Lok Sabha constituency, are two Lingayat leaders who are battling the anti-incumbency factor. They are running a neck-to-neck race for what could eventually turn out to be a thrilling photo-finish.
The constituency assumes significance following the establishment of the Suvarna Vidhana Soudha, the seat of the second Secretariat of the State, and the government’s resolve to develop the city on the lines of a second capital of the State.
Two-time MP and businessman Mr. Angadi, who allegedly used his position to expand his businesses and open professional colleges in Belgaum, is facing public ire for his alleged failure to make any notable contribution for the development of the constituency during his two terms spanning over ten years. The least people expected of him was to implement the long-pending proposals for three railway over-bridges in Belgaum city. Both the people and party workers complain of his apathy. His efforts to improve facilities at the railway station are not worthy to recount. The only credibility he still enjoys is for being non-controversial, except for building his engineering college without permission, on land notified for the Army exercises, and subsequently managing, with the previous BJP government, to get it de-notified.
Of the eight Assembly segments in the constituency, the BJP’s strength has gone up from three to four (Belgaum Rural, Saundatti Yellamma, Arabhavi and Bailhongal) after the merger of the Karnataka Janata Paksha with the BJP; while Gokak, Belgaum Uttar and Ramdurg are represented by Congress MLAs, and Belgaum Dakshin by an Independent (Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti).
Ms. Hebbalkar, who is also president of the Belgaum District Congress Committee, lost by a narrow margin in the last Assembly elections in Belgaum Rural, and has little to claim as contributions for the development of the constituency. Her close association with some of the controversial Congress leaders has not gone down well among the Lingayats. With the help of Minister of Excise Satish L. Jarkiholi, Feroz N. Sait, MLA, and Ramesh L. Jarkiholi, she is tapping every possible resource to boost her prospects given the strong anti-incumbency against the UPA at the Centre. The Congress here is banking on the support of Dalits, backward classes and minorities, and hoping to capitalise on the fact that it is fielding a woman. They are also projecting the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi as a threat to the secular fabric of the country.
The JD(S) has fielded Nasir Bagwan, an outsider from Khanapur Assembly segment, who is banking on the support of the sizeable Bagwan community in the constituency. The former Chief Minister H.D. Kumarswamy’s popularity will also come to the candidate’s aid.
The Aam Admi Party has fielded a young social worker to stamp its presence here. Given that Mr. Angadi is facing strong public opposition for his alleged non-performance, only the BJP’s wishful ‘Modi wave’ may help him win. Ms. Hebbalkar’s prospects clearly hinge on the support of Dalits, backward classes, minorities and a section of Lingayats. But, a large number of Marathi voters hold a key here, and can tilt the equation either way.