Karnataka 2018

Chittapur battle a question of prestige for Kharges

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Priyank Kharge is contesting from the constituency on Congress ticket

With Malikayya Guttedar, a senior politician who recently quit Congress to join BJP, vowing to make veteran Congressman M. Mallikarjun Kharge and his Minister son Priyank Kharge politically irrelevant, the poll battle at Chittapur where Kharge Junior is contesting on Congress ticket, is in the spotlight.

The biggest challenge for Mr. Priyank Kharge is the departure of local party leaders who, upset with his style of functioning – maintaining direct contact with grassroots level party workers and people, while avoiding middlemen and local leaders – are now with BJP. They will inflict as much damage as they can to his prospects. It cannot be ignored that the very same style of functioning has also consolidated and expanded his support base which is instrumental at the booth level.

Even after the departure of a few leaders, Congress continues to maintain its grip over the constituency controlling the local politics as it commands the local bodies such as taluk panchayat, Town Municipal Council, zilla panchayat wards and gram panchayats, giving an upper hand to Mr. Priyank.

Using his position as a Minister and being the son of an influential leader, Mr. Priyank has managed to get ₹2,700 crore sanctioned by the State government to his constituency for developmental works in the last four years. The funds spent are visible in the form of improved infrastructure – roads, bridges and government buildings. The long standing demand for a bridge over the Kagina at Bagodi was realised at a cost of ₹33 crores. He is confident of getting dividends in the election.

Chittapur was one of those constituencies that did not have multiple contenders for Congress ticket and hence, Mr. Priyank, did not wait for the official announcement to launch his campaign. His intense campaign in rural areas much ahead of the announcement of his candidature put him in an advantageous position.

A few leaders quitting Congress and joining BJP is surely an advantage for BJP candidate Valmiki Naik. Mr. Naik also thinks that his consecutive defeats in the previous elections will create a sympathy wave for him.

Caste polarisation

After all, caste polarisation will affect in Chittapur and elsewhere. Lingayats is the largest community with 60,000 votes followed by Koli (45,000), Dalits (35,000), Lambani (25,000), Muslims (20,000), Kurubas (15,000) and Edigas (12,000). Though the majority of Lingayats are likely choose BJP, Lingayat leaders in Congress who are in power at local bodies will direct some of their community votes to Congress. The efforts of Mr. Guttedar, an Ediga leader, to ensure Mr. Priyank’s defeat, might help polarise 12,000 community votes in favour of BJP.

However, the Congress has greater chances of attracting majority of votes in other communities. Mr. Guttedar’s attacks on the Kharges are expected to polarise Dalit votes in favour of them. In the absence of a strong JD(S) candidate, a majority of Muslims will prefer to go with Congress. The entry of Rajagopal Reddy, a Koli leader, into Congress, has the increased the chances of polarisation of his community votes. Kurubas may vote for Priyank to see Siddaramaiah continue as CM.

Since a defeat in the constituency can dent their image in view of Mr. Guttedar’s open challenge, the Kharges have taken the warning seriously. Kharge Senior, who is a face of Karnataka on the national platform of the party, cannot afford to lose Chittapur.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2020 9:10:42 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/karnataka-2018/chittapur-battle-a-question-of-prestige-for-kharges/article23702578.ece

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