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The battle of VIP sons

In Varuna, Siddaramaiah’s son Yathindra is gearing up to take on Abhishek, JD(S) candidate and son-in-law of Congress’ K Shadakshari. Yeddyurappa’s son was not allowed to contest at the last minute. Thus, the upcoming Karnataka elections are all set to see some ‘son’-rise, as well as some ‘son’-sets

Darshan Puttannaiah would have been sitting on the other side of the globe in Denver, US. Instead, he is traversing the length and breadth of Melkote constituency in Mandya district, contesting this Karnataka election as the candidate of Swaraj India.

The demise of his father, KS Puttannaiah, a highly respected farmer leader in this Cauvery delta region, this February meant the 40-year-old had to reboot his life’s goals. The software engineer pursuing the great American dream was bit by the homeland virus.

“This is new to me. I have not even contested a classroom election in my life,” Darshan confesses, during a lunch break from his campaign. “But I always enjoyed the activism side.’’

Puttannaiah or KSP as he was popularly referred to in these parts, was the MLA from Melukote. His Sarvodaya Karnataka Paksha merged with Swaraj India last year. This is one constituency where the Congress refrained from putting up a candidate as a tribute to KSP’s memory. Not that it would help much, as in the 2013 election, the Congress candidate polled just 2,300 votes. This is JD(S) territory and like in 2013, Mandya MP CS Puttaraju is the candidate to get past.

Darshan does not conform to the stereotype of a farmer leader. Clad in denim and a white shirt, the green shawl thrown on his left shoulder gives him the identity of a farmer. He returns to India at a time when most agrarian families are reluctant to let their children take to farming. With the Cauvery issue on the boil despite the Supreme Court verdict, farmers in the delta are grappling with doubts over whether their standing crop will receive water. For Darshan, this is like baptism by the Cauvery fire. He will hope the voters will give a younger, fresh, tech-driven perspective to the age-old issue, a chance.

“Even if I do not win, I am here for keeps,’’ he promises as he explains his blueprint to redraft the manner in which water-intensive agriculture is done in the region, pushing farmers deeper into the debt trap.

About 60 km away, Varuna constituency in Mysuru district was gearing up for the battle of the VIP sons. But with the BJP denying the ticket to BS Yeddyurappa’s son at the last minute, Siddaramaiah’s son Dr Yathindra may find the going easy.

Like Darshan, a tragedy in the family pushed Yathindra into active politics. The pathologist son of the chief minister had to fill in the shoes of his elder brother Rakesh, who passed away in July 2016.

“Rakesh had a swagger about him, Yathindra is more sober,’’ says Shekhar, a villager. “If Rakesh was alive, he would have been the candidate. But Yathindra has been handling the constituency issues for more than a year now so he is familiar with the area.’’

With a lemon in his hand, given to him by a villager for good luck, Yathindra looks around for a raised platform as a vantage point to make a short speech. The talking points revolve around what his father, who won from Varuna twice in 2008 and 2013, has done.

“Being the CM’s son, the people accepted me easily. But it does not mean I do not have to work hard. I have toured most of the villages, know many of the people personally now,’’ says Yathindra.

Though the BJP is not a strong party in the old Mysuru region, Yeddyurappa’s son BY Vijayendra would have given Yathindra a fight.
“Yes, the margin of my victory would have been a little less, nothing more than that,’’ says Yathindra.

Not that Yathindra does not have another dynast to take on — Abhishek, the JD(S) candidate. Ironically, Abhishek is the son-in-law of Congress candidate K Shadakshari from Tiptur in Tumkur district. The JD(S) would have ideally preferred a son-rise in Varuna as GT Deve Gowda, who is up against Siddaramaiah in Chamundeshwari, was keen on the ticket for his son, Harish Gowda.

Vijayendra is disappointed that his tryst with Varuna had to end this way. His supporters gave vent to their ire by vandalising furniture and blocking traffic as it was seen as a snub to the Yeddyurappa parivaar by rivals within the party. Vijayendra had been campaigning in Varuna for three weeks, had rented a house and was all set to file his nomination when his candidature was vetoed by the high command. To pacify him, he has been given an ornamental post in the BJP Yuva Morcha.

“The cadre in Varuna was keen that I contest which is why I started touring the constituency. After this decision, I will continue to work for the party and campaign in the areas allotted to me,’’ says Vijayendra, choosing to be diplomatic.

In capital city Bengaluru, NA Haris of the Congress suffered a son-stroke even before the election campaign began. His son, Mohammed Nalapad, was involved in a pub brawl in February where the victim was grievously injured and the outrage was severe. A campaign to deny Haris the ticket from Shanthinagar in the heart of the capital city started gaining momentum and in fact, the decision on the constituency was withheld till the last minute.
“Please note I did not do anything. Yes, I regret what happened. That is why I made my son surrender and submit to the law of the land,’’ says Haris.
None less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a reference to the brawl when he campaigned in Bengaluru and Haris would hope his son’s actions do not cast a shadow over his election. Nalapad continues to be in the Bengaluru prison.

The Karnataka elections aren’t only about sons, there are grandsons too. HD Deve Gowda’s diktat that only two members of his family will contest the election dashed the political dreams of grandson Prajwal Revanna. Now his two grandsons, Nikhil (HD Kumaraswamy’s son) and Prajwal (HD Revanna’s son) have been looking after the campaigns of their fathers. As a sop, Gowda has announced that Prajwal would, in all likelihood, contest from his Hassan Lok Sabha seat next year.

The elections in Karnataka aren’t just about setting the tone for 2019. Within the families of politicians, they are also about the gen-next getting set for a son-rise. Not all will be successful and May 15 is bound to see some son-sets too.

This article was first published in Newslaundry.