Hindutva and caste calculations overtake real issues of drought and backwardness in north Karnataka

Despite a debilitating drought in the region since the 2022 kharif season, few political campaigners have addressed water scarcity issues; large number of children, relatives of Congress Ministers in the fray

Updated - May 02, 2024 11:49 am IST

Published - May 01, 2024 08:17 pm IST - HUBBALLI

A bird  in Tavare Kere at Keregodu village after the water level had dipped in lakes at Mandya district of Karnataka due to drought situation.

A bird in Tavare Kere at Keregodu village after the water level had dipped in lakes at Mandya district of Karnataka due to drought situation. | Photo Credit: K Bhagya Prakash

Under a scorching sun and amidst a severe drought, 14 constituencies in northern and central Karnataka are going to the polls on May 7. Complaints about regional imbalances and unkept promises — especially related to irrigation projects — are an undercurrent, though constantly overshadowed by communal narratives and the blame game between parties in the last leg of the campaign.

The emergence of right-wing activism in the aftermath of the 1992 Idgah riots in Hubballi and the subsequent political realignment in the region, with members of the Janata Parivar shifting to the saffron party, has severely affected the Congress’ prospects in the region. The party’s efforts to regain its glory have not yielded big results yet.

In the 2004, 2009, and 2014 elections, the Congress never got more than three seats out of the total 14 seats in northern and central Karnataka. Despite aligning with the Janata Dal (Secular) in 2019, the Congress was washed out in the region, with the BJP making a clean sweep. Under the changed political equations, the JD(S) has tied up with the BJP this time around, but is not contesting any seats in this region.

The BJP candidates in the 14 constituencies are clearly heavily dependent on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity and, in certain pockets, the Hindutva agenda. The Congress, on the other hand, is trying to minimise its effect by using its “new guarantee card” and highlighting the “meagre drought relief” for which it had to approach the Supreme Court.

New names, old issues

North Karnataka was broadly categorised into Hyderabad Karnataka and Bombay (Mumbai) Karnataka, now renamed Kalyana Karnataka and Kittur Karnataka, respectively. The change in name has not changed the issues. For instance, out of 39 taluks across Karnataka identified as “most backward” by the D.M. Najundappa Committee report on regional imbalances, 26 are from north Karnataka. The situation in these taluks has not changed much. Important issues, such as the promise of making the Upper Krishna Project a national project, still remain a dream, and the much-debated Kalasa Banduri Nala project that aims to divert water from Mahadayi basin to the Malaprabha basin remains a non starter.

However, these issues are not being debated much in the run up to the Lok Sabha election. A host of national and State-level leaders have addressed scores of rallies across this region, but very few have spoken about the debilitating drought and water scarcity that the region has been suffering from since the 2022 kharif season. Any debate on the lack of industries or other means of employment in north Karnataka, compared to the south, is also not to be heard.

The issues that are being raised instead, are the castes and sub castes of candidates, the murder of student Neha Hiremath on a college campus in Hubballi that has been used to set a communal narrative, and the Bengaluru cafe blast case, used to speak of wider threats to national security. Over the last few days, though the JD(S) is not a big force to reckon with in most parts of north Karnataka, the alleged sex scandal involving JD(S)leader Prajwal Revanna has somewhat shifted focus from the Neha Hiremath murder.

‘Family election’

Under pressure to make inroads in these constituencies which have remained with the BJP, the Congress has fielded many children and relatives of Ministers in this election. Ministers Satish Jarkiholi’s daughter Priyanka Jarkiholi, Shivanand Patil’s daughter Samyukta Patil, Ishwar Khandre’s son Sagar Khandre, Laxmi Hebbalkar’s son Mrinal Hebbalkar, and S.S. Mallikarjun’s wife Prabha Mallikarjun are in the fray, and the Ministers are sweating it out to ensure their victory.

Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge has taken on the task of getting his son-in-law Radhakrishan Doddamani elected from his home constituency of Kalaburagi. Mr. Kharge’s emotional appeal to voters to “at least attend my funeral even if you do not vote for me” is testimony to what a prestige battle this is for him. He often reminds people about the denial of special status to Kalyana Karnataka under Article 371 (J) by BJP leader and then-Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani in 1999, when the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance was in power at the Centre. The demand was only fulfilled by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government in 2012.

Two ex-Chief Ministers — Jagadish Shettar and Basavaraj Bommai — are contesting Lok Sabha elections for the first time on a BJP ticket. Union Minister Pralhad Joshi is striving for re-election and so are former Union Minister Ramesh Jigajinagi and MP P.C. Gaddigoudar. Former Union Minister G.M. Siddeshwar is going all out to ensure victory for his wife Gayatri. Another former Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa is under pressure to get his son B.Y. Raghavendra elected, amidst a rebellion by his one-time party colleague K.S. Eshwarappa.

Rebellion is affecting both the BJP and the Congress in a few of the 14 seats. The BJP’s Anna Saheb Jolle in Chikkodi, Bhagawant Khuba in Bidar, and Jagadish Shettar in Belagavi are likely to be affected by the dissent within the party. In Belagavi, the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti is also likely to take a section of Maratha votes away from the BJP. Having been denied a ticket this time around, Uttar Kannada’s incumbent MP Ananthkumar Hegde has remained neutral, which may affect BJP’s prospects. The Congress is also dealing with the rebel factor in the Davanagere and Bagalkot constituencies.

(With inputs from Rishikesh Bahadur Desai & Kumar Buradikatti)

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