Karnataka BJP veterans V Somanna and R Ashoka have their tasks cut out with the central leadership entrusting them with the ambitious yet immensely difficult task of ousting Congress heavyweights Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar from their home bastions of Varuna and Kanakapura respectively in the Karnataka Assembly elections.
Interestingly, Somanna and Ashoka are the only two candidates in the party to be fielded from two constituencies each – the other two being Chamarajanagar and Padmanabhanagar. Political analysts say the BJP’s decision to yield to Somanna and Ashoka’s wishes to field them from their choice of seats (Chamarajanagar and Padmanabhanagar) could be a strategic blunder as they may come to consider Varuna and Kanakapura, which should be their priority, as secondary options. It is learnt that the BJP high command has instructed Somanna and Ashoka to focus on Varuna and Kanakapura over campaigning for the state elections.
Varuna and Siddaramaiah go a long way
The Varuna constituency, where the Lingayat community is believed to be in large numbers, was earlier a part of the Chamundeshwari constituency. It became a separate constituency after the delimitation exercise in 2008.
Opinion: Karnataka’s electoral landscape is volatile, muddied, and unpredictable
Congress leader and former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah, who was earlier contesting from Chamundeshwari, shifted to Varuna, under which his birthplace Siddaramanahundi comes. Siddaramaiah won two assembly elections from the seat and in 2018 gave it up for his son Yathindra Siddaramaiah. He himself moved back to Chamundeshwari, but lost the elections. With Varuna technically being his home turf, Siddaramaiah has now control over the seat through his son and has announced to contest from the constituency one last time.
Experts say, defeating him in his home bastion would be difficult.
The Varuna constituency has around 60,000 Lingayats, 65,000 members from the Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) communities besides having 36,000 Kurubas, and 13,000 Vokkaligas.
Even though the Lingayats are a majority in the region, the AHINDA (backward class, Dalits and minorities) votes always decide the winner in the constituency and Siddaramaiah enjoys immense support among these communities.
In 2008, Siddaramaiah won by 18,848 votes against his nearest rival – former DGP L Revannasiddaiah. In 2013, the margin was even higher (almost 30,000) against Kapu Siddalinga Swamy, a close aide of BS Yediyurappa who then had floated the Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP), and Siddaramaiah became the chief minister. In 2018, Yathindra won with a margin of 29,641 votes. Between 2008 and 2018, the vote share for Congress has increased from 13.16 per cent to 21 per cent.
Lingayat leaders like Revanna Siddaiah, Kapu Siddalinga Swamy and Thotadappa Basavaraju despite having support from Yediyurappa, couldn’t make a cut in the constituency.
The AHINDA voters are said to be backing Siddaramaiah in Varuna even though JD(S) influences Vokkaligas to vote for the BJP in the constituency. Siddaramaiah’s rapport and old connections with various Lingayat leaders and seers also strengthens his footing among the community.
Can Somanna breach Siddaramaiah’s fort?
BJP’s Varuna candidate Somanna, on the other hand, is a strong Lingayat leader in the Old Mysuru region, where he has connections with various Lingayat mutts and community leaders. However, it will be a tough task for him to sway OBC, SC and ST votes in his favour.
Also read: Karnataka polls: BJP announces second list of 23 candidates; no ticket for 7 sitting MLAs
D Mahadevappa, a political analyst, says the BJP must have planned to divide SC/ST votes because of the increase in reservation quota for the two communities in recent times. “If the BJP is successful in dividing these votes and gets the JD(S)’s support to avail Vokkaliga votes, then it will be a threat to Siddaramaiah,” he added.
Sommana, who is the in-charge minister of Chamarajanagar district, however, is confident of winning from the constituency which borders the Varuna constituency. The seat is currently occupied by Congress’ Puttaranga Shetty, who in 2018 had defeated a BJP candidate by a margin of around 4,000 votes.
Lingayats are the majority in the constituency while OBC, and SC/STs are also important voters. Somanna, who has done developmental work in the district and has the support of Lingayat seers, is confident of winning from the constituency with the help of Lingayat and OBC votes. In fact, he had asked for Chamarajanagar if he is not fielded from his traditional constituency of Govindarajanagar in Bengaluru.
However, it will be a tough task for Somanna if the AHINDA community goes against him in Chamarajanagar. A close aide of Somanna said that the leader is facing a ‘litmus test,’ even though he is given two constituencies to contest.
‘BJP seeks to divide Cong’s Vokkaliga votes in Kanakapura’
Like Varuna and Chamarajanagar, Kanakapura and Padmanabhanagar are also neighbouring constituencies that border Bengaluru and Bengaluru Rural districts.
R Ashoka who won six consecutive assembly polls from the Uttarahalli constituency shifted to the Padmanabhanagar constituency in 2008. Now he has been fielded from the neighbouring constituency of Kanakapura, a stronghold of Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) chief DK Shivakumar.
Shivakumar is a seven-time MLA from Sathanur (earlier part of the Kanakapura Lok Sabha constituency and now defunct) and Kanakapura (after the delimitation of constituencies in 2008) and has strong control over the constituency.
At 98,000 the Vokkaliga population dominate the Kanakapura constituency and are followed by 44,000 people from the SC community, 22,000 Muslims, 18,000 Lingayats and 6,000 Kurubas.
Also read: Karnataka polls: Siddaramaiah ‘welcomes’ BJP rival; DKS vows to ‘fight’
The constituency is a stronghold of the Congress because of the staunch support it enjoys among the Vokkaligas, SC/STs and Muslims.
However, the BJP by fielding Ashoka in the constituency plans to divide the Vokkaliga votes and instead attract the OBC and Lingayat votes in the region.
But, it is not an easy task for Ashoka in Kanakapura as Shivakumar and his brother DK Suresh are notorious for their aggressive politics.
Political analysts say the BJP by pitting one of its strongest contenders in Kanakapura wants Shivakumar to channel all his focus on his constituency and neglect the election campaign in the process.
Team Shivakumar seems to have its defences in place. The Congress now plans to field his brother DK Suresh from neighbouring Padmanabhanagar, also a Vokkaliga belt and Ashoka’s home constituency to make focusing on Kanakapura difficult for him.
Sources say, while the Congress had already shortlisted a candidate for Padmanabhanagar, it is now considering allotting it to Suresh.
“At the same time, voters may not be happy with the BJP’s decision to allot two constituencies each to Somanna and Ashoka,” said Ramesh Gowda, an executive member of Vokkaliga Sangha.
It may not be easy for Ashoka to divide the Vokkaliga votes as BJP wishes. In turn, he may face problems if Suresh enters his constituency. However, the BJP’s tactic to ‘lock’ Shivakumar in his constituency during the thick of the elections has created a tricky situation for the DKS brothers.
Also read: Karnataka polls: Stage set for BJP heavyweights vs top Cong leaders
Analysts say that BJP has indeed given a tough task to Somanna and Ashok, who are claiming themselves as the Lingayat and Vokkaliga faces and seeking good placement in the BJP governments. This has created a ‘do or die’ situation for both the BJP leaders, but certainly alerted Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar.
Role of JDS
The JD(S)’s role in the elections in Varuna and Kanakapura cannot be ruled out too. For HD Kumaraswamy, the defeat of the Congress in Kanakapura is a priority as he wants to succeed his father HD Deve Gowda as a Vokkaliga leader in the region. He also wants Siddaramaiah to be defeated in Varuna as he bears a grudge against him for the collapse of the JD(S)-Congress coalition government in 2019. Sources say, to reach his goal, Kumaraswamy will try to divide Vokkaliga in Kanakapura and SC/ST, OBC and Muslim votes in Varuna.