Mysuru: Hunsur Assembly Constituency, the largest tobacco growing region in Karnataka is witnessing a triangular fight for the first time in the history of elections taking a break from otherwise what used to be a straight fight between traditional rivals Congress and Janata Dal (S).
Veteran politician and former JD(S) State President A.H. Vishwanath, who was disqualified for defying party whip, is now a BJP candidate for the Dec. 5 by-election to the State Legislative Assembly.
Vishwanath, who led a major plot to pull down Congress-JD(S) Coalition Government headed by Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy in last July, which also led to the disqualification of 17 MLAs (Congress 14, JD(S) 3) has now changed his loyalty to saffron party which he was hating all these years.
Vishwanath was a Hindutva critic
But the bigger challenge before him now is to secure a stamp of approval from the people of Hunsur on his political moves since they elected him in 2018, for his actions contributed to the installation of BJP Government led by Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa, while bringing down the Congress-JD(S) coalition Government.
Meanwhile, Vishwanath, for whom the stakes are quite high, is not taking the electoral challenge lightly. Once a strong critic of Hindutva politics, with new saffron avatar, he is trying to justify his ideological shift.
He is drawing a political parallel between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his political mentor the late former Chief Minister D. Devaraj Urs for their “caste-less” background. He has come out with a “pre-poll promise” of carving out a new district and name it as Devaraj Urs District with Hunsur as the headquarters. However, it remains to be seen if the people of Hunsur will buy this narrative.
Thin victory margin
During the Assembly elections in May 2018, Vishwanath won as a JD(S) candidate, polling 91,667 votes. But the margin of victory was just 8,575 votes as Congress candidate H.P. Manjunath, who had incidentally won in the 2008 and 2013 Assembly elections, came a close second securing 83,092 votes. J.S. Ramesh Kumar of the BJP had polled just 6,406.
BJP not a pushover
The Congress’ strength in the region came to the fore even during the subsequent Lok Sabha elections earlier this year when the party established a lead over BJP in Hunsur. But the BJP, which is now in power both at the Centre and in the State, is no pushover in Hunsur. The party, which has a good organisational network and the support of frontal organisations, won Hunsur twice earlier — C.H. Vijayshankar in 1994 and V. Papanna (now no more) in 1999.
Amid the shaping of a keen electoral battle between the Congress and the BJP in the Constituency, the JD(S) has also queered the electoral pitch with Kumaraswamy clarifying that their entry into the fray is not merely to defeat Vishwanath, who ditched the party that decorated him with the post of State President, but to retain the Assembly segment.
However, the party has fielded the lesser-known Devarahalli Somashekar as its candidate. But Hunsur is also home to a substantial Vokkaliga population that displays an affinity to the JD(S), which has won the seat twice so far — G.T. Devegowda in 2004 and Vishwanath in 2018.
Among the 10 candidates in the fray, the fight is between ex-MLAs Vishwanath and Manjunath of the BJP and Congress, respectively. First-time candidate Devarahalli Somashekar has been fielded from the JD(S). The by-poll is necessitated due to the resignation of Vishwanath, who was elected on a JD(S) ticket in the 2018 election. It was his first election from Hunsur segment in his 45-year political career. He belongs to the neighbouring K.R. Nagar segment.
Siddu is Manjunath’s godfather
Initially, Manjunath seemed to have an edge, when the nomination papers were being filed. Opposition Leader Siddharamaiah, KPCC President Dinesh Gundu Rao, ex-Deputy CM Dr. G. Parameshwara and former Minister D.K. Shivakumar campaigned for him at different times.
However, Siddharamaiah is his ‘godfather’. This factor is having a negative impact on his prospects. The voters of Kuruba community, the fourth largest in the segment, who supported Manjunath in the last election, are sore over Siddharamaiah, for causing the disqualification of a few community MLAs.
The Kuruba factor
The return of ex-MP Vijayashankar, a Kuruba leader to BJP, who had joined the Congress in 2018, is also helping Vishwanath, also a Kuruba. Manjunath does not have the support of his own community, the Arya Vaishyas, which has a microscopic population. JD(S) leaders, who are up in arms against Siddharamaiah, also do not want Manjunath to win. Though JD(S) has a score to settle with Vishwanath, who resigned from the party and joined BJP, the leaders are going slow on him.
Vokkaliga and Nayaka votes
Still, JD(S) leaders H.D. Kumaraswamy, H.D. Revanna and his son Prajwal are campaigning. Besides, the groundwork by ex-Minister C.P. Yogeshwar, who was an aspirant of BJP ticket here, has polarised a section of Vokkaligas, the second-largest ethnic group.
The voters of ST (Nayaka) community, who take a lead in celebrating Hanuma Jayanti and have an inclination towards BJP, have expressed their solidarity with Health and Family Welfare Minister B. Sriramulu. While a majority of the Lingayat voters are expected to vote for the BJP, the Congress is banking on minorities. Both their numbers are almost the same, in the fifth place.
The highest number of voters belongs to SC communities, who are not as vocal as others on their choice — the total number of voters in the Hunsur Constituency is over 2.16 lakh.
CONSTITUENCY AND STRATEGIES
CONSTITUENCY AND STRATEGIES
• A.H. Vishwanath led a major plot to pull down Congress-JD(S) coalition Government
• Vishwanath, a bitter critic of Hindutva politics, has now donned saffron avatar
• Thin margin in 2018 elections – Vishwanath JD(S) (91,667 votes), H.P. Manjunath (Cong) 83,092 votes
• Hunsur has sizeable Vokkaliga population that is loyal to JD(S)
• JD(S) leaders up in arms against Siddharamaiah, lessening Manjunath’s prospects
• Congress is banking on minorities whose population is in fifth place