Old warhorse battles BJP to retain fort in Karnataka

May 19th, 2008 - 3:00 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Bahujan Samaj Party
By Fakir Balaji
Jewargi (Karnataka), May 19 (IANS) Former chief minister N. Dharam Singh is in the electoral battle for the ninth time from this constituency in north Karnataka for the assembly election May 22. A Rajput by birth, the 72-year-old warhorse has been holding fort in state politics as a Congress leader for 36 years, graduating from grass roots in the backward Hyderabad-Karnataka region.

Dharam Singh became the chief minister by a stroke of luck. He was chosen over other party leaders after the May 2004 assembly election, which the Congress lost. A fractured verdict forced it join with Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) to form the first coalition government in the southern state.

A die-hard loyalist of Congress and the Nehru-Gandhi family, Dharam Singh has been in the good books of JD-S chief and former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda because of his image of being “Ajathshatru” — a friend of all with no enemies.

Although Singh fulfilled his dream of becoming chief minister, he lasted only 20 months, when Gowda’s ambitious son H.D. Kumaraswamy brought down the coalition government. Kumaraswamy then became chief minister by joining hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had emerged as the single largest party (79 seats) in the 224-member assembly.

Having been a cabinet minister in five Congress governments 1980-2004 and chief minister (June 2005-January 2006), Dharam Singh claims to have nursed his constituency by developing connectivity, building schools and colleges, and by setting up health centres in this assembly segment spread across 144 villages with an electorate of about 200,935.

Proximity to a bustling city like Gulbarga - only 40 km away - and other towns has helped the urban parts of Jewargi to witness socio-economic development. But the rural areas remain deprived of basic amenities such as proper roads, drinking water, quality power and health facilities.

Being out of power and pelf, Dharam Singh is facing a formidable challenge to retain the seat from a resurgent BJP, which has fielded Doddappa Gouda Patil (36), son of Shivalingapa Patil, who lost in 2004 by 2,731 votes.

The elder Patil’s death in 2005 has generated a lot of sympathy for Gouda.

Although the JD-S is not a force to reckon with here, Dharam Singh faces an uphill task in his bid to create history by winning the ninth time consecutively because parties like the Janata Dal-United (JD-U), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Samajwadi Party and Raitha Horata Samiti (farmer’s action committee) are all in the contest besides 10 independents. Each of them can dent his support base.

Once a bastion of the Congress, the erstwhile Deccan kingdom of Hyderabad Nizams has witnessed a political sea change with the advent of the BJP and JD-S over the last 10-15 years.

The failure of successive Congress governments to develop the region socio-economically and political instability in the last 40 months have made people lose hope in the electoral process — evident from their indifference to the polls and contempt for political parties.

As a Samaritan, Dharam Singh is upbeat, saying he enjoys the goodwill generated across all communities and classes over the last three decades.

“Jewargi is the only constituency in the country that is not only most secular but also progressive, raising above caste and creed to repose faith in a Rajput like me by voting for me in every election,” Dharam Singh told IANS while on a campaign trail through the the many hamlets.

With the BJP upping the ante by projecting a Lingayat-born B.S. Yeddyurappa as its chief ministerial candidate and promising freebies if it takes power, Dharam Singh is sweating out in scorching summer to ensure that the Lingayats (about 75,000 votes) will back him this time too.

Countering the veteran, a spirited Gouda, belonging to the Lingayat community, claims to have connected with the electorate with his youthful image and father’s legacy of reaching out to people.

“I have been campaigning since October 2007 when our party was denied transfer of power by JD-S. Withdrawal of support by the JD-S a month later to our government has created a lot of sympathy and goodwill for BJP.

“We are sure to break Dharam Singh’s record and wrest the seat this time due to winds of change in favour of the BJP across the state,” Gouda said in the midst of electioneering at Yelagodu hamlet, 30 km from Jewargi.

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