Dalit activist and MLA Jignesh Mevani’s triumphant win in Gujarat appears to have given an impetus to social activists, who are now eyeing the upcoming 2018 Karnataka elections with renewed interest.
Several groups from the State had even travelled to Gujarat and worked at the grass-roots level as part of Mr. Mevani’s campaign. They are now hoping to carve out a similar space for themselves in the State.
But is there room for these independent voices in what’s proving to be a hotly contested election between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress? There is a hunger for alternative politics among people and social activism must articulate that alternative, argue activists. Many seasoned activists, though, are also urging caution as they are worried that they will only cause votes to split, benefiting the BJP. They also say that it will be difficult to recreate Mr. Mevani’s win in the absence of ground work in specific constituencies.
Nonetheless, several social activists are readying themselves for polls. The list includes anti-corruption activist Ravi Krishna Reddy, advocate C.S. Dwarakanath, Dalit activist V. Nagaraj, anti-liquor activist Linge Gowda and farmers’ leader K.S. Puttannaiah, to name a few.
Social activist S.R. Hiremath has also announced his intent to contest polls, but added that he will contest the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and not the 2018 Assembly elections. A senior leader from Swaraj India, a political party formed out of Swaraj Abhiyan led by Yogendra Yadav, said they have identified over five candidates — all activists working in Chitradurga, Koppal and other districts. The list will be finalised soon.
Of the contenders, Mr. Reddy and Mr. Gowda have completed over 70 days of door-to-door campaign in Jayanagar Assembly segment in Bengaluru and Maddur constituency in Mandya, respectively. “We may be known to 50 lakh people across the State, but what matters is people who vote in a particular constituency, where we never concentrate and work,” said Mr. Reddy. He learned this lesson in the three earlier polls he had contested, and lost.
Except for K.S. Puttanaiah, incumbent MLA for Pandavapur, none of the others seem to be sure of even the constituencies they will contest in.
Noor Sridhar, a former left-wing extremist who is now part of the mainstream, said while alternative politics must be strengthened, forces must also strategise in such a way that they don’t end up benefiting communal forces and splitting votes.
“Activists must contest only in places where they have a social base and are sure of a win,” he said. Will he contest polls? He replies with an emphatic “no”. “My contribution will be in strengthening social movements,” said Mr. Sridhar.
Mr. Reddy remains cautious too. “Social activists contesting polls and getting badly defeated will have an adverse psychological impact on other good people in the future,” he said.