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No pocket borough

Badami, a taluk in north Karnataka, stands to gain by becoming the CM’s constituency if Siddaramaiah wins. But the long neglected electorate cannot be swayed by facile campaigns

There are about 15 men and women who have lined up to collect their ration quota of kerosene in Paarvati hamlet in Badami constituency. Only three houses have a gas connection, which means three litres of kerosene at R25 a litre is the mainstay of almost every kitchen here.

“It has been two months since we filed our applications for gas connections, nothing has happened yet,” says Sudhakar, a youth in Paarvati.

An equally big problem in this part is the lack of mobile connectivity.

“We need mobile towers here urgently. If there is no cellular network, it is as if we do not exist,” says Vasant, a primary school teacher.

Travelling beyond Badami town is like travelling to back of beyond. The roads are bad. The widening and carpeting of the main road in the town began only two weeks back, thanks perhaps to the VIP presence that was about to descend on the constituency. Badami also faces a huge drinking water crisis and is hoping for water to be given from the Mahadayi river that flows into Goa to quench its thirst.

It is this desperate-for-attention Badami that Siddaramaiah has stepped into. After reports from Chamundeshwari suggested a close contest, the Congress decided to play it safe with a second seat for the chief minister.

Ideally, Siddaramaiah ought to be seen as Santa Claus since Badami could stand to gain by becoming the CM’s constituency. His gesture of deciding to contest from north Karnataka has also elevated his stature as someone who is able to bridge the north-south divide in the state. Haseem, who runs Vijayapura tea stall in Badami town, has always voted for the Congress and is enthused by the big ticket party presence this time round.
“If Siddaramaiah gets elected, things will move at a faster pace in Badami,” says Haseem.

One in every four voters in this constituency of 2.14 lakh in Bagalkot district is a Kuruba, the shepherd caste that Siddaramaiah belongs to. In addition, there are 25,000 Dalits and 10,000 Muslims. On paper, that should make Badami a walk in the park for Siddaramaiah. Except that voices from the ground suggest otherwise.

First the arithmetic. In the 2013 election, the Congress candidate BB Chimmankatti polled 57,000 votes. The Janata Dal (Secular) was in second place with 42,000 votes. The Bharatiya Janata Party secured 30,000 votes and the Karnataka Janata Paksha of BS Yeddyurappa got 3,000 votes. If the non-Congress parties are able to hammer out an understanding as some in the JD(S) are discreetly suggesting, it could get difficult for Siddaramaiah.
The second is the outsider versus insider contest that many in Badami, especially in the countryside, articulate. The JD(S) candidate Hanumanthappa Mavinmarad is a local person. He has risen through the ranks in Badami, first as panchayat and then as Zilla Parishad member. The 38-year-old has been campaigning for the last four months and has touched every village as part of his door-to-door outreach. This gives this son of the soil a huge lead, more so as locals place a premium on accessibility.

“I am a son of Badami constituency. I have not come here just for elections. I have known about their difficulties for last 12 years. I have visited 60,000 homes and told them about the work I have done,” says Hanumanthappa.With an eye on blunting the ‘outsider’ tag, Sriramulu is looking to rent a house in Badami.

“The chief minister is an outsider, so is B Sriramulu of the BJP,’’ points out Sridhar, a shopkeeper. “In contrast, Hanumanthappa will always be available for any help. Electing the CM or Sriramulu would mean we will need to travel to Bengaluru or Ballari for any help.”Then there is the doubt if either of them will retain Badami if they also win Chamundeshwari in the case of Siddaramaiah and Molkalmuru in the case of Sriramulu. That would necessitate a by-election in Badami and locals ask why not choose Hanumanthappa instead.

Mumbai-Karnataka region in which Badami falls is also Lingayat territory. Team Hanumanthappa emphasises the JD(S) candidate’s Lingayat caste in order to tap into the 30,000 voters of the community. Siddaramaiah would, however, hope that his decision to grant separate religion status would ensure some Lingayat votes accrue to him as well.

Siddaramaiah may also have to bear the brunt of the anger and anti-incumbency against five-time Congress MLA Chimmankatti since many residents feel he has not done enough. Few locals also express disappointment that Siddaramaiah did not do anything for Badami while he was CM. But what could work for Siddaramaiah is if he showcases what he did for Varuna constituency that he represented for two terms. The roads in Varuna are smooth and connectivity a non-issue even in the most remote part of the constituency.

Sriramulu is banking on the 16,000-odd Valmiki Nayaka community votes in addition to the Lingayat support base the BJP traditionally gets. BJP leader Shobha Karandlaje also points out that 20 of the 26 taluk panchayats in Badami are controlled by the party. Yeddyurappa has warned Siddaramaiah of a defeat in Badami. If that happens, expect Sriramulu’s stature to rise dramatically and the rumours that he could be deputy chief minister could actually come true.

But there is also the concern about the message that will go out if Sriramulu gets elected. While it will transform Sriramulu’s image from a Ballari-Chitradurga politician to a pan-Karnataka leader, it will also give legitimacy to the Reddy gang whose cause Sriramulu espouses.

Siddaramaiah invoked the glory of the Chalukya kingdom on the day he filed his nomination papers from Badami. His poll managers are working on leaders of different communities to ensure the CM’s victory. Given that Siddaramaiah is likely to promise Badami the moon during his campaign, the likelihood of the electorate getting swayed and aiming for the sky cannot be ruled out.

This article has been re-published with the permission of Newslaundry. Read the original article on www.newslaundry.com