Congress, BJP fight it out in a hot bed of caste equations at Nanjangud
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Congress, BJP fight it out in a hot bed of caste equations at Nanjangud

April 4, 2017

The temple town of Nanjangud is witnessing a high-voltage campaign both by the Congress and the BJP to ensure victory in the by-election that will be held on April 9 along with Gundlupet Assembly constituency. With just five days to go for the voting, both the parties have made the constituency the epicentre of political activities in the State.

While the Congress, led by Chief Minister Siddharamaiah, has deputed 21 of his Cabinet Ministers to ensure the victory of Kalale Keshavamurthy, not lagging behind, the BJP, led by its State President B.S. Yeddyurappa and other party heavy-weights, is conducting door-to-door campaigns, road shows and meetings to make sure party candidate former Minister and Dalit stalwart V. Sreenivasa Prasad wins the battle.

Initially, it was a high-pitched battle between Sreenivasa Prasad and Kalale Keshavamurthy and now the contest has zeroed in on the political stakes of Siddharamaiah and Yeddyurappa as both have taken the by-election (especially Nanjangud) as a prestige issue.

Traditionally, Nanjangud (a reserved constituency) is a Congress citadel where cast equations run very high and the party has a tough task to ensure that the seat is not wrested by the BJP. Here, Ahinda (Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits) factor weighs heavily in and the second major community is the Lingayats.

Walk on any street of Nanjangud and you will see one political party or the other canvassing for their candidate. Though the town is not dominated by banners, buntings, hoardings and cut-outs, the inner political currents are strong. While hundreds of people are arriving in the town for the Nanjangud Dodda Jathra Mahotsava slated for Apr. 7, political party workers, Ministers, their aides and their followers are camping in the guest houses, hotels and lodges.

NARROW MARGIN VICTORY

For Govinda Swamy, who sells newspapers at a small tea stall at the entrance of Nanjangud, the victory margin will be less than 2,000. “There are over 2 lakh voters here comprising Dalits, Lingayats, Kurubas, Nayakas, Upparas, Brahmins and Muslims. Dalits and Lingayats will be the deciding factors and that is why both Congress and BJP are trying their best to woo them, promising the moon,” he says.

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“While the Nanjangud election is a semi-final for CM Siddharamaiah for the 2018 general elections, for Yeddyurappa it will be a chance to consolidate his Chief Ministerial candidature in case the BJP comes to power in 2018. With a victory in Nanjangud, he will be able to silence his detractors and convince the High Command that he is a man to watch out for,” Govinda Swamy opines.

ELECTION ISSUES

So, what are the election issues? “It is just a battle of prestige between Congress and BJP. Nanjangud is facing severe water crisis and though the election is being held under the scorching sun, no political party seems to have a convincing plan to solve the water crisis. They come, they canvas, they promise and leave,” says Sharanappa, who runs a fruit shop on the temple road.

Apart from water, the roads are full of potholes and have not seen asphalt since years. “Both BJP and Congress have promised concrete roads if their candidate is elected. We will have to wait and watch,” Sharanappa adds.

BJP AND CONGRESS STRATEGY

The 2013 general election was a triangular fight between Congress (V. Sreenivasa Prasad), Janata Dal-Secular (Kalale Keshavamurthy) and the BJP (S. Mahadevaiah). This time while Sreenivasa Prasad has joined the BJP, Kalale Keshavamurthy has joined the Congress and the JD(S) is not contesting.

“Not just Lingayats and Dalits. This time every community matters. In the last elections, there was a polarisation between Dalits (who supported Congress) and Lingayats (who supported the BJP). And the Congress (Sreenivasa Prasad) emerged victorious. As Sreenivasa Prasad has now joined the BJP, the party is looking for a combination of Dalit and Lingayat votes to ensure victory,” says Mohan, a journalist.

“It is a straight battle between the ruling party (Congress) and the opposition (BJP). And any candidate who wins Nanjangud will win by a narrow  margin,” he adds.

While the BJP is banking on 100 percent votes of Lingayats, Dalits and Brahmins, the Congress is confident of gaining 100 percent of Kuruba votes, 90 percent of Muslim votes, 80 percent of Uppara votes, 40 percent of Nayaka votes, 75 percent of Savitha Samaja votes and 75 percent of Vokkaliga votes. But the deciding factor will be Dalits and Lingayats.

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Political pundits say that while the strategy of the BJP is to consolidate Lingayat, Dalit and Brahmin votes, the Congress is trying to engineer a split in BJP support base in this battle of one-upmanship.

What Nanjangud by-election means for Congress and BJP

For Congress candidate Kalale Keshavamurthy, who contested from Nanjangud on JD(S) ticket in 2013 and lost, it will be a litmus test to prove his popularity. The seat is also crucial for Chief Minister Siddharamaiah and this is the reason he has deputed 21 Ministers to ensure Kalale’s victory.

Nanjangud is a home turf for BJP candidate V. Sreenivasa Prasad and he has been a five-time MP from Chamarajanagar and was elected as an MLA from Nanjangud in 2008 and 2013. While he wields a powerful influence among Dalits, Kalale Keshavamurthy is known to be a “neighbourhood man” who rushes to help people even during midnight. CM Siddharamaiah, at one of his rallies in Nanjangud, told voters that Kalale Keshavamurthy was a bachelor and there was no need for him to indulge in corruption!

For Sreenivasa Prasad, victory in Nanjangud will re-establish his credentials as a Dalit icon in the region. He is hoping to take revenge on CM Siddharamaiah for unceremoniously dropping him from the Cabinet. If Kalale Keshavamurthy wins Nanjangud, it will enable Siddharamaiah to silence his critics and will help him to take on the 2018 general elections with renewed vigour.   

Congress has won 9 out of 13 elections held since 1957 and lost thrice to Janata Dal and to an Independent in 1967. It is hoping to recreate the earlier magic. If Prasad manages to retain Nanjangud, it will indicate a new voting pattern of Dalits and the other backward castes and at the same time will enhance Prasad’s image as a leader, irrespective of party affiliations.

If Sreenivasa Prasad has conducted a series of “Swabhimani Samaveshas” where he tried to project his dropping from the Siddharamaiah Cabinet as an “insult” to Dalits, the Congress has pumped in more than Rs. 600 crore to Nanjangud development soon after Prasad left Congress to join BJP, necessitating the by-election.

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