Dharwad Lok Sabha constituency | Pralhad Joshi hopes for a record fifth win, with seer out of fray and a murder adding to saffron narrative

The Neha Hiremath murder case seems to have altered the political equations, with the BJP playing the “Hindu-Muslim” card more vehemently in the last few days.

April 27, 2024 10:17 pm | Updated April 28, 2024 04:31 pm IST - HUBBALLI

BJP leader Pralhad Joshi during an election campaign in Dharwad district.

BJP leader Pralhad Joshi during an election campaign in Dharwad district. | Photo Credit: File photo

Yet again, Dharwad Lok Sabha constituency is slated for a straight fight between national parties the BJP and the Congress with both making every effort to woo the demographically strong Veerashaiva-Lingayat community.

Unlike the previous elections, both the national parties have equal representation in the constituency comprising eight Assembly segments. But the ruling party has a formidable opponent in Union Minister Pralhad Joshi, who is making all out efforts to create a record by winning for the fifth time in a row. In the last 17 elections, two other candidates have won four times in a row.

Despite being the largest community in the constituency, Lingayats have elected a man from their community only on three occasions, while three Brahmin candidates have won 10 times and a Kuruba leader has won four times.

Pre and post-Idgah row

Until the 1996 Lok Sabha election, which was held in the aftermath of Idgah riots in Hubballi, Dharwad Lok Sabha (earlier Dharwad North) was the bastion of the Congress party. But the national flag hoisting at Idgah Maidan and the consequent riots, which turned Hubballi-Dharwad into communally sensitive areas, tilted the equations in favour of the saffron party. Ever since, the BJP has registered easy victories with Vijay Sankeshwar, winning it thrice, and Mr. Joshi, winning it four times in a row.

Having a topography which is mix of Malnad and arid regions, Dharwad Lok Sabha constituency has more urban dwellers, a fact that favours the saffron party, making it possible for a person from a demographically small community winning it. Mr. Joshi’s winning margin had crossed over two lakhs in the last election.

Changed scenario

This time too, when the elections were announced, Mr. Joshi whose clout has grown in the recent years, seemed comfortably positioned to win the election hands down, as he is pitted against a political greenhorn Vinod Asuti. But it was until Fakira Dingaleshwar Swami of Shirahatti Fakkireshwar Mutt, calling Mr. Joshi a “supressor of Lingayats” said that he would contest against Mr. Joshi.

Initially the seer, the successor of a mutt with syncretic tradition, went hammer and tongs against Mr. Joshi and even filed his nomination papers, a development that rattled the BJP camp, which depends heavily on Lingayats. Much to the relief of Mr. Joshi, the seer subsequently withdrew from the contest, but vowed to continue his ‘holy war’ against Mr. Joshi to ensure his defeat in the election.

Following these developments, Mr. Joshi is seen in the company of Lingayat leaders more often and his visits to Lingayat mutts have increased. Mr. Joshi has brought in several Lingayat leaders to campaign for him.

Meanwhile, former Minister Vinay Kulkarni, who is forbidden from entering Dharwad district for his alleged involvement in a murder case and who unsuccessfully contested against Mr. Joshi twice, is campaigning virtually, accusing Mr. Joshi of indulging in “vengeance politics” and “dividing and suppressing community leaders.”

Vinod Asuti, Congress candidate for Hubballi-Dharwad Lok Sabha constituency.

Vinod Asuti, Congress candidate for Hubballi-Dharwad Lok Sabha constituency. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Raita Sena Karnataka, which is leading the Mahadayi Kalasa Banduri Nala project agitation, has extended support to the Congress candidate through its political wing Karnataka Samata Paksha.

The murder

The brutal murder of a college student Neha Hiremath, daughter of a Congress municipal councillor, by a Muslim youth this month, seems to have altered the political equations a bit with the saffron party playing the “Hindu-Muslim” card more vehemently in the last few days. The BJP camp wants to keep the issue alive till the elections are over and has been organising a series of protests and meetings to strengthen the narrative which it has already built. The BJP is accusing the government of “appeasement politics” in a clear bid to polarise the votes.

While the BJP is trying to keep its support base of Lingayats intact, the Congress, which is banking on the demographically strong Muslims and Kurubas along with support of OBCs, is looking for more support from Veerashaiva Lingayats.

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