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Rift between JD(S)-Cong leaders may hand BJP the advantage in Shivamogga

Shivamogga, Mandya and Ballari parliamentary seats along with two assembly seats go to polls on 3 November. HT

Thirthahalli (Shivamogga): It’s pitch dark with only a full moon and a small general store’s dim light serving as a reference point en route to Kuppalli village—home to eminent Kannada poet Kuvempu—in Shivamogga district.

A heated discussion on the failure of the local administration to fix the broken street light can be heard a distance away.

“No MP or MLA has done anything for us. Sometimes they put up a show just before elections but most of the times we are forgotten,” 69-year-old Karunakar, the owner of the general store, says.

Others present in the shop say they are made to jump through the political hoops every time they ask for something to be fixed or ask for grants.

Much like the rest of the state, politics in Thirthahalli is not dictated by state-level leaders but local leaders who are key to mobilising support and converting them into votes.

Shivamogga, Mandya and Ballari parliamentary seats along with two assembly seats—Jamkhandi and Ramanagaram—go to the by-polls on 3 November.

The three parliamentary seats fell vacant after sitting MPs who successfully contested the May assembly elections decided to vacate them.

“What is the need for an MP whose term is less than four months,” 43-year-old Mahesh, a subsistence farmer asks.

The nature of the contest being witnessed in the by-polls, especially in Thirthalli taluka has left many Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) supporters confused as the local units are still acting like rival parties in spite of a state-level alliance.

The fight between the Congress and JD(S) in May had made it easy for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to take the seat. Two senior leaders, Kimmane Ratnakar of the Congress and Manjunath Gowda of the JD (S) who fought tooth and nail just five months ago have been unable to move past their differences despite their top level leaderships decision to fight together to defeat the BJP.

A video of Ratnakar’s fight with Madhu Bangarappa, the coalition candidate, in the assembly from a few years ago has gone viral with the BJP using it to show how the two parties were coming together despite levelling corruption allegations against each other earlier.

“There are some problems in Thirthahalli with leaders of Congress and JD(S) holding separate meetings. But we are trying to get the people to see that BJP needs to be defeated,” a senior Congress leader from the district said.

The contest here is between the sons of three former chief ministers of Karnakata. B.Y. Raghavendra from the BJP is the son of B.S. Yeddyurappa, Madhu Bangarappa of the JD(S) is the son of S.Bangarappa and Mahima Patel representing the Janata Dal (United) is the son of J.H.Patel.

The contest, however, is mostly between the BJP and the Congress-JD(S) alliance.

The alliance is hoping that the Lingayat community votes are split between Raghavendra and Patel while Congress-JD(S) can channel the votes of communities like the Idigas, minorities, backward classes and Vokkaligas.

Estimates made by political parties indicate that there are 280,000 Lingayats, 125,000 Vokkaliga voters, 240,000 Idigas and about 180,000 Muslims.

The BJP is confident and is leaving nothing to chance as Yeddyurappa, who won by a massive margin here in 2014, has made several trips across the district for campaigning.

Former chief minister Siddaramiah also landed in the district on Thursday, hoping to consolidate the grass root level workers.

The upcoming by-polls are a testing ground for the JD(S) and the Congress who have decided to fight Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP together.

But the grass root level workers who are unhappy in the state-level alliance, have not shown the same level of enthusiasm they showed just a few months ago, that could just make this and the 2019 elections that much harder for the alliance.

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