‘Jo dar gaya, samjho mar gaya’ — this iconic dialogue by Gabbar Singh in Hindi movie Sholay holds good for the high-octane electoral fight expected in Karnataka’s Ramanagara assembly seat — the place where the blockbuster was shot.
The fight for Ramanagara, just 65 km from Bengaluru, will not just be a battle between the Janata Dal (Secular) (JDS) and the Congress, but between two politically strong families of JDS’s HD Kumaraswamy and Congress’ DK Shivakumar.
Shivakumar has hinted that several party workers from Ramanagara have suggested that DK Suresh, his brother and Congress’s lone MP representing the Bengaluru Rural Lok Sabha constituency, be fielded against Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil, who will be contesting from the seat on a JDS ticket.
“A proposal has come that he (Suresh) should be fielded from Ramanagara. I am yet to discuss this in detail with Suresh and the party workers. Local leaders have been urging me to consider it. I need to take a careful decision as I do not want to have a bye-election (Lok Sabha),” said Shivakumar, the Karnataka Congress chief. If Suresh wins the Ramanagara seat, a bypoll would have to be held in the Bengaluru rural LS seat that he currently represents.
“Suresh will win comfortably and even the JDS knows that. He has a strong following and acceptance in the region. An internal survey also has shown that Suresh will win by a huge margin if he contests,” said a senior Congress leader, on condition of anonymity.
If Suresh contests from Ramanagara, the battle between the Vokkaligas will be renewed in a seat that has been regarded as a stronghold of the JDS and one that has not been breached by any party since the 1990s.
Presently, the Ramanagara assembly constituency is represented by Kumaraswamy’s wife Anitha . The JDS was the first political party in the state to formally announce its first list of candidates in December 2022.
Nikhil, along with 92 other candidates, made it to the first list, although Kumaraswamy had in July 2022 said that his 33-year-old son will not contest the 2023 assembly elections, but would instead work for the party’s victory in other constituencies.
However, the party was in for a surprise when Anitha announced that Nikhil would be her successor in her constituency.
“Nikhil will be contesting from Ramanagara. I hope and trust that people of Ramanagara constituency will extend their love and support to him as you have done to me. Many people have been trying to spread the wrong message. To put an end to it, I have announced Nikhil’s candidature,” she said, during a public meeting of the JDS’s Pancha Ratna Yatre, a state-wide tour spearheaded by Kumaraswamy.
For Nikhil, this would be his second electoral battle after he lost the Mandya seat to actor-turned-politician Sumalatha Ambareesh in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. He was a joint candidate of the Congress and JDS, while Sumalatha was backed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The JDS hopes that Nikhil would win comfortably in a seat that is the party’s bastion, but with the entry of Suresh, the election becomes a lot more challenging.
ALL ABOUT RAMANAGARA
The Ramanagara district has four assembly seats, three of which are with the JDS, including Channapatana represented by HD Kumaraswamy, Ramanagara by his wife Anitha, and Magadi by A Manjunath. Shivakumar’s Kanakapura seat also falls in this district and the entire district falls under the Bengaluru Rural Lok Sabha seat, which is represented by DK Suresh.
The battle in Ramanagara has been based on the clout of the Kumaraswamy couple and the DK brothers over the electorate. It is this very equation that would bring to the fore the simmering ‘MahaYudh’ between the two politically influential Vokkaliga families in the state. Ramanagara is incidentally also the same place where the ruling BJP announced that they plan to build a ‘majestic’ Ram temple to find a footing in the JDS bastion.
If Suresh contests the Ramanagara seat, he will be pitted against Nikhil, which would translate into a direct fight between HDK and DKS — a feud that some say had seen some form of truce in 2018 when the JDS and Congress formed a coalition government. Kumaraswamy had contested from two seats, Channapatna and Ramanagara. After the two parties tied up, Kumaraswamy gave up Ramanagara, a seat the JDS leader had won five times, on Shivakumar’s advice.
The political rivalry between the Shivakumar and the Deve Gowda family is decades long. In the 1985 assembly polls, a young Shivakumar first contested against former prime minister HD Deve Gowda from then Sathanur Assembly on a Congress ticket. Shivakumar lost the election, but that was not the end of the story.
Gowda had contested from two seats, Sathanur and Holenarsipura. Luck was on Shivakumar’s side as Deve Gowda chose to go with Holenarsipura and the seat went to the polls again which Shivakumar won.
Not long after, Shivakumar fought another losing political battle against Gowda in 1989 when he contested against the former PM in the Kanakapura constituency and lost. He once again faced defeat at the hands of Gowda’s son Kumaraswamy in 1994 when they both contested from the Sathanur seat. In 1999, Shivakumar tasted blood when he defeated Kumaraswamy in another high-profile contest.
An unsatisfied Shivakumar played another strategy in 2004 to checkmate the Gowdas. Shivakumar was instrumental in helping the then political novice and former journalist Tejashwini Gowda win the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. The Congress handed her a ticket on the last day of the nominations and she came out as a winner, defeating Deve Gowda by a margin of over one lakh votes. Tejashwini is presently a BJP MLC.
IMPACT ON BJP
Fielding Suresh will also deal a strong blow to the BJP’s prospects. Shivakumar is also hoping to be the chief minister if the Congress performs well in the upcoming elections. To leave his competition behind in the race for the CM, Shivakumar will have to help the Congress bring in a big win and win a large haul of seats in the Old Mysore region.
The ruling BJP has also set its target on wooing the Vokkaliga vote bank, especially in this region by using Dr C N Ashwath Narayan, one of the BJP’s Vokkaliga strongmen.
Vokkaligas are the second largest community after the Lingayats in Karnataka and have a considerable sway in Karnataka’s electoral politics.
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