Home >Politics >Policy >Karnataka elections: Can Siddaramaiah win back his old bastion?

Mysuru: Halekaamana Koppala is a small village of “around 450 votes" as villagers describe their forested corner of Chamundeshwari assembly constituency. It is surrounded by forest land, but residents here do not have land deeds and fear being evicted by the authorities, especially if the man representing the constituency, G.T. Deve Gowda of the Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S) manages to defeat Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah in Chamundeshwari in the 12 May polls.

“We have gone to him (Gowda) a few times, but he refuses to see us because we are not from his caste," Ramesh, a 27-year-old farmer says.

With barely a month to go for the elections, the Congress is banking on Siddaramaiah to retain power in the state and also help the party’s fortunes in next year’s Lok Sabha polls. But Siddaramaiah’s decision to switch his constituency from Varuna to Chamundeshwari has kept the Congress on the edge.

Siddaramaiah debuted as a legislator from Chamundeshwari in 1983 and has won five times from there since then. Forced to contest the bypolls from Chamundeshwari in 2006 after he quit the JD(S), Siddaramaiah scraped through with a thin margin of 257 votes. In 2008, he won from Varuna constituency, but decided to return to Chamundeshwari to make way for his son Yathindra Siddaramaiah to contest from Varuna.

“As soon as we tell him (Gowda) the name of our village, we are denied a meeting," Krishna, another resident of this Kuruba caste-dominated village says, citing the caste identity as the main reason for the neglect. Unlike the village, Chamundeshwari is a Vokkaliga dominated constituency—and Gowda is a Vokkalikga. Siddaramaiah is a Kuruba.

Voters say caste was not the most important factor until now. But the sharpening battle for Chamundeshwari has seen a resurgence of caste identities at the expense of issues like lack of irrigation and jobs.

“Farmers don’t make this distinction of caste. Only politicians do," 42-year-old Nagaraj, a resident of Varuna village, says referring to the state government’s decision to give minority religion status to Lingayats, believed to be the largest caste group in the state. “We are constantly reminded of our caste now," he adds.

“Lingayats, Vokkaligas, Naiks, Dalits...everyone supported Siddaramaiah. But they now feel that he supports just one community," Gowda says.

Siddaramaiah has spent four straight days in Chamundeshwari, almost limiting his presence to the two constituencies (including Varuna) when the Congress is looking at the chief minister to mobilize support across the state.

A. Narayana, political analyst and faculty at the Azim Premji University, Bengaluru says that Siddaramaiah staked his and his party’s chances just to secure his son’s political future. “This is a very un-Siddaramaiah like step," he says. Villagers from Lingayat-dominated Nagawala village say that they will support the JD(S) and work against the chief minister, who broke up their community. Though the Kurubas are rallying behind Siddaramaiah, the Vokkaligas haven’t made up their mind as yet.

B.K.Gowda, a 56-year-old Vokkaliga resident of Belawadi village, says that the lack of development works in his village forces him to look beyond caste. “He (Gowda) has done nothing here but it’s not as if the others have. We will see what they announce for our village and then decide. But I will vote for sure," he said.

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