Clash of titans in Karnataka’s poll theatre

May 13th, 2008 - 4:12 pm ICT by admin  

By Fakir Balaji
Shikaripura (Karnataka), May 13 (IANS) In the heart of Malnad region in central Karnataka, two former chief ministers - B.S. Yeddyurappa and S. Bangarappa - are locked in a mother of all poll battles in the second phase of the state assembly elections May 16 from this constituency, about 60 km from Shimoga and 330 km from Bangalore. What would have been a cakewalk for Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) chief ministerial candidate Yeddyurappa on his home turf initially, has turned into a do-or-die battle with the entry of flamboyant Bangarappa of the Samajwadi Party (SP) in the fray.

With BJP’s arch-rivals Congress and Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) withdrawing their candidates to prevent division of secular votes, Shikaripura is set for a straight contest between the two titans who have dominated the political landscape of the region, famous for its bio-diverse Western Ghats.

Though 76-year-old, Bangarappa retained the Shimoga Lok Sabha seat in a by-election held a year after he quit BJP in 2004 and joined SP. His decision to take on Yeddyurappa has made Congress and JD-S rally round to thwart the latter from heading BJP’s first government in south India, if elected to power.

Ironically, BJP made inroads in Karnataka and emerged as the single largest party in the 2004 poll, winning 79 seats in the 224-member assembly by piggy-riding on Bangarappa’s huge following in Malnad among the backward classes, dominated by his Idiga community.

The grapevine has it that Idiga community, which has been flourishing on selling arrack (toddy) over the decades, has vowed to defeat Yeddyurappa for banning it (arrack) across the state as deputy chief minister in the JD-S-led coalition government from February 2006 to October 2007.

“Bangarappa was reluctant to contest in this election due to failing health and resource constraints to field party candidates from all constituencies. When an enraged Idiga community - which supported him in every election despite his party-hopping and shifting loyalties - beseeched him to defeat Yeddyurappa in Shikaripura for taking away their livelihood, an ailing Bangarappa donned the battle gear to take the fight into the enemy’s camp,” an SP leader told IANS on the campaign trail late Monday.

While his two sons Kumar and Madhu are locked in a battle-royale as Congress and SP candidates, respectively, in his adjacent home constituency Sorab, Bangarappa’s slick campaign across Shikaripura drawing huge crowds has rattled 66-year-old Yeddyurappa, forcing him to sweat it out to retain his hold on his home town.

As an old war horse of Malnad who won from Sorab assembly segment seven times since 1967 and from Shimoga parliamentary seat four times since 1996, Bangarappa is as much a household name as Yeddyurappa though considered an outsider - he migrated over 25 years ago from Yeddur in Mandya district to Shikaripura in search of a job.

With BJP making inroads in the Malnad region over the last decade and occupying the political void left behind by a Congress minus Bangarappa, the dominant Lingayat community and other forward castes have propelled a Lingayat-born Yeddyurappa as an alternative leader to protect their interests and further their political cause.

Unfazed by Bangarappa’s challenge in his own backyard, Yeddyurappa has marshalled the sangh parivar to galvanise his electioneering and neutralise the impact of anti-BJP votes going to the former in a dual contest between the lotus and cycle - symbols of the two parties.

Old-timers and loyal voters of Yeddyurappa consider Bangarappa as an “intruder” in Shikaripura from his home constituency (Sorab) in the neighbourhood. His letting his progeny (Kumar and Madhu) slug it out in Sorab has bemused a section of the 161,072 voters here as to why the backward classes veteran is contesting the assembly election - that too from a BJP bastion - despite being a Lok Sabha member!

Though Shikaripura is part of the Shimoga Lok Sabha constituency and Bangarappa has a large following on caste and secular basis, Yeddyurappa’s track record as deputy chief minister and finance minister in the 20-month JD-S-BJP coalition government has earned him goodwill for the development works undertaken in his home constituency and welfare schemes for women and school children.

Moreover, refusal by former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy to transfer power in October 2007 as envisaged in the 20-month accord between JD-S and BJP in February 2006 and withdrawal of support to Yeddyurappa a week after he became chief minister in November 2007 have created a groundswell of support for the BJP chief ministerial candidate.

If Yeddyurappa retains the seat and his party secures a simple majority to enable him become chief minister, Bangarappa would not only have met his match, but also made history by turning the close fight into a battle of Waterloo!

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