Karnataka polls: 'Outlanders' Siddaramaiah, Sreeramulu play to Badami crowd
Badami was not on the Bharatiya Janata Party’s radar when it drew up its list of Karnataka Assembly election 2018 candidates — not until Chief Minister Siddaramaiah opted to fight from this constituency as a second seat, by the admission of a senior party strategist.
Suddenly, but not inexplicably, this crummy little northern Karnataka town, 105 km to the north of Hubli and veiled in clouds of red dust emanating from the over-quarried hills encasing it, engaged the attention of BJP President Amit Shah. Shah loves to make an affray out of a commonplace contest when it involves a big gun. B Sreeramulu, the tribal leader from Ballari in central Karnataka, was brought in as Siddaramaiah’s adversary. Like the chief minister, Sreeramulu, a Lok Sabha MP from Ballari, is contesting from a second seat, Molakalmuru, closer to his home terrain.
Therefore, myths come in handy to lend political weight to the present-day contestants or pull them down. Subhash Kitli, a lawyer in the judicial magistrate’s court, crowned Siddaramaiah as the new Chalukya king Pulakeshin and said that just as Pulakeshin II had defeated Emperor Harshavardhan on the banks of the Narmada circa 618 AD, Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be “annihilated” by the chief minister. Across Karnataka, the election is perceived as a tourney between Modi and Siddaramaiah, although Sreeramulu also has a standing independent of Modi.
To Ramappa Timmapur, Badami represented a “battle between legality and illegality” because Sreeramulu is an alias for the Ballari’s Reddys, his mentors, of whom one was convicted in an illegal iron ore mining case.
The BJP’s Dharwad MP Pralhad Joshi dressed up the bout as an intrigue of the first order with Siddaramaiah as an ace schemer. “It was a covert operation to fight from Badami. He took a secret flight to Hubli, his party was not aware of his programme and filed his nomination. If he wanted to send a signal that by contesting from north Karnataka, he was a leader of all of Karnataka, then why this secrecy? After ruling for five years, is he not a pan-Karnataka leader,” asked Joshi.
Whatever the framework of the debate, the fact is that Siddaramaiah and Sreeramulu are outlanders in Badami and, therefore, dependent on their parties’ local infrastructure to see them through.
S R Patil, a former state minister and working president of the Karnataka Congress who is minding North Karnataka, stressed Siddaramaiah was “fighting not just as himself but as the chief minister”. “Whenever the Congress gets more seats from the north, it forms the government. As the CM, if Siddaramaiah contests from Badami, the message will travel through Bombay Karnataka and Hyderabad Karnataka,” contended Patil, tangentially justifying Joshi’s charge. Bombay Karnataka has 40 seats and Hyderabad Karnataka has 56. Patil said the Congress’ target was securing 60 to 65 of those seats.
Under the overall supervision of general secretary and Shah confidant Bhupendra Yadav, the BJP’s nuts and bolts were managed by a former Badami legislator M K Pattanashetty, Bagalkot MP P C Gaddigoudar and Mahantesh Mammadapur, a former renegade who returned weeks ago from the Janata Dal (Secular) and was hailed as a prodigal son much to the distaste of the local leaders. BJP sources said the three men often worked at cross-purposes and a “cohesive” team was not yet in place.
Pattanashetty claimed that Sreeramulu was as “serious” about Badami as he was about Molakalmuru — so far the contestant has visited the place just twice, although he was supposed to have covered 40 villages during the last stopover.
The unknown quotient is the Dalit vote, numbering a little over 25,000. The BJP, which the locals said has not made a concerted bid for the Dalits, has asked its scheduled caste representatives MLA Govind Karjol and MP Ramesh Jigajinage to work on the voters. Siddaramaiah has the 45,000 Kuruba votes as well as those of the Muslims wrapped up. If he weans away a chunk of the Dalits, the Congress is confident that he will be through.
On the other hand, the BJP assiduously tried to keep its Lingayat votes intact, more so because the Janata Dal (Secular) fielded a young Lingayat, Hanumantha Mavinmarad.
However, in Badami town, voters seemed less preoccupied with caste and looked at the big picture. Rangnath Kulagere, who runs a computer centre, is a Kuruba like Siddaramaiah, but he affirmed that he looked at a party more while voting. “Modi’s doing good work and the BJP is a strong party, so you can guess what my choice is,” he said.