When chief minister Siddaramaiah went public recently to say that he had never contested from two seats in his long political career, a section of the electorate in Chamundeshwari could not have been more pleased.
For, he had decided to come back to the high profile constituency from where he had started his career in 1983, having won on a Bhartiya Lok Dal ticket first and subsequently as a Janata Party and JDS member.
Significantly, in 2006, it was this constituency which again helped him revive his political career but as a Congressman, after being expelled from the JDS, in a bypoll. This time, however, it was also a challenge that he accepted from JDS leader and former chief minister, H D Kumaraswamy to contest from here.
Accordingly, for the Congressmen and the thousands of Kurubas from his community and the OBCs, it was good to have someone who won five times from the constituency earlier. They did not mind the fact that he had subsequently chosen to contest from neighbouring Varuna in 2008 and 2013 as they were happy that he even went on to become chief minister.
The goodwill, however, changed overnight because this time the chief minister decided to contest from Badami in Bagalkot district as well. For the supporters, this was a cruel blow as it was not only against expectations, the decision showed that their leader was not confident of winning from a constituency which had repeatedly favoured him in the past.
It also seemed to give credence to reports that the state intelligence had given a negative feedback about his chances in ChamundeshwarI, Prakash, a tea stall owner, told The Statesman.
At the ground level, resentment runs high in this Vokkaligga dominated belt which has a strong affiliation with the former Prime Minister, Deve Gowda and his family, especially, his son and one time chief minister, H D Kumaraswamy.
The constituency with an electorate of 2,50,000, comprises 70,000 Vokkaliggas, 30,000 Lingayats and over 1,20,000 backwards, SCs, STs, Brahmins,Muslims and the Kurubas to which the chief minister belongs. It is this combine of smaller communities that Siddharamiah is banking on this time.
In this semi-urban seat, Siddharamiah had managed to get the support of the OBCs and others following community specific welfare programmes, to quote his supporters. Above all, he is also the chief minister. To that extent, he has everything going for him, not to mention the prospect of retaining that post if the ruling party forms the government again.
His detractors disagree as they claim that the very dalits, OBCs and Muslims whose support he is banking on this time, are angry with him. They believe that he has been favouring his own community people over others. That resentment is definitely strong.
In addition, the JDS supporters too have not taken kindly to the recent barbs and attacks which Siddharamiah unleashed against former Prime Minister Deve Gowda , arguing that but for that family, the chief minister would not have risen in politics. What hurt the community more was his decision to remove Deve Gowda’s portrait from his office in Vidhan Soudha.
These incidents have alienated the general electorate in Chamundeshwari leading to a consolidation of votes against him. Importantly, this time Siddharamiah is not contesting as a Janata Dal or a JDS candidate, the one whom the dominant Vokkaliggas and others had voted for before 2006.
The Lingayats, on the other hand, are divided over his move to grant a separate religion tag to the followers of poet saint Basavanna with the Veershaiva sect not hiding its resentment.
A quick tour of Yelawara and Gungalchatra villages in the constituency provides clear indication of the general mood. Majority of the electorate from different communities loudly echoed the discrimination sentiment.
As a Vokkaligga community member, Dinesh Gowda, 30 pointed out “take any recent posting in the Vidhan Soudha and you will see that the Kuruba officials outnumber the Vokkaliggas who have not even got decent promotions.”
The JDS candidate, G T Devegowda , also known as the ‘other Gowda,” is Siddharamiah’s main rival here as BJP’s Gopal Rao, hardly has any visibility. Besides, being a Brahmin, he appears to be banking on a small voter population.
This “other Gowda” and Siddharamiah, incidentally, were very close during their early days. In fact, the former had even helped his friend win elections in 1983 and later as a JDS candidate, besides organising the party rallies with precision.
A bitter GT, as he is known here, now accuses the chief minister of resenting his rise as a zila panchayat chief and even as an MLA. No wonder then that he is patiently milking all the anger and resentment against Siddaramaiah to his visible advantage.
The chief minister, however, remains undaunted even as his detractors claim that he has chosen to fight from two seats because of the groundswell of opinion, anger and annoyance against him.
This became increasingly apparent when he covered over 10 villages in the segment earlier in April, trying to woo the backwards and the Kurubas. Mamtha Gowda, a housewife, wondered why the chief minister appeared so uncertain.
“There must be some truth in the state intelligence report which said that the chief minister could lose from here after all,” she says aloud.
What people are not willing to mention though is that both the parties are spending huge sums to retain their vote bank and a section of the targeted electorate is not averse to benefiting from this sudden largesse, however temporary.
G T Deve Gowda, incidentally, admits that it would be a tough fight between the two candidates though there was no reason why he would not be able to defeat the Congress.
“I am confident of retaining my seat as Siddaramaiah’s lack of courtesy and gratitude would be his undoing. He has alienated the people with his arrogant behaviour,” the JDS leader claimed.
Yet, he knows that his Congress opponent does have the advantage of being a chief minister. Besides, people know that if the Congress wins, he could retain power.
What, however, turns the situation in favour of the JDS is that Siddaramaiah has alienated the electorate of Chamundeshwari, first by neglecting them in favour of Varuna and then by ignoring the importance of local bodies like the zila and taluk panchayats, is this Gowda’s refrain.
What is significant in this crucial fight though is that it is not merely between Siddaramaiah and G T Deve Gowda. As Nagaih , a Congress supporter , noted, “ two-state heavyweights are fighting here in the form of former chief minister, H D Kumaraswamy of the JDS and Siddaramiah, the ruling chief minister.
It was precisely why Siddharamiah while accepting the challenge to fight from Chamundeshwari had retorted that “does Kumaraswamy believe that the voters are in his pocket?”