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HomePoliticsKarnataka Elections 2018Caste likely to decide Siddaramaiah’s fate in the close battle for Badami

Caste likely to decide Siddaramaiah’s fate in the close battle for Badami

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BJP’s Sriramulu belongs to the Valmiki Scheduled Tribe, which can counter the large number of voters of the Kuruba community to which the CM belongs.

Badami: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has often taunted Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah for contesting from two assembly seats, as he ‘feared’ defeat in Chamundeshwari. Campaign rhetoric apart, Siddaramaiah is indeed facing two extremely tough fights, both in Chamundeshwari in the Old Mysuru region and here in Badami, which is part of the northern ‘Bombay-Karnataka’ region.

In Badami, the BJP has decided to field Ballari Lok Sabha MP B. Sriramulu to counter Siddaramaiah. This is because Sriramulu belongs to the Valmiki Scheduled Tribe, which constitutes nearly 90 per cent of the total ST voters in this seat, and can counter the large number of Kuruba voters – the shepherd community to which Siddaramaiah belongs.

Congress’s campaign strategy

Siddaramaiah is one of the Congress’s main campaigners across the state — he’s even outshining party president Rahul Gandhi in that regard. So, his own campaign in Badami has been left in the hands of leaders like Satish Jarkiholi, who also belongs to the Valmiki community. Jarkiholi and S.R. Patil, the Congress working president for north Karnataka, have been given the responsibility to split the Valmiki vote.

“If the chief minister was contesting only from Chamundeshwari, it would have been difficult. But because he is contesting from here, the pressure has been eased in Chamundeshwari,” Jarkiholi told ThePrint.

“If the CM did not contest from here, this seat would have gone to the JD(S). While we have seen how the caste factor has worked out, he will win from here, although the lead may be smaller,” he said.

BJP’s counter

The BJP is not giving up this fight easily. It has roped in its state vice-president Govind Karjol and union minister of state Ramesh Jigajinagi to consolidate the significant number of Dalit votes.

Another advantage for the BJP is that many youngsters have been influenced by PM Modi. Ramesh, who will be casting his vote for the first time, said: “His Make in India and Skill India programmes have created so many jobs. If they can bring those schemes to our place too, many of us will find good jobs.”

Caste-based voting

Voters in the villages surrounding the heritage city of Badami are quite clear in their minds — having observed the political churn, they say they will vote for whoever their respective community leaders support.

Kendur Tanda village, whose inhabitants belong to the Banjara community, has close to 200 votes. The village elders sitting under the banyan tree were quite excited to talk about how this election has brought the chief minister to their constituency. Ramappa is one of the many youngsters who works in another city, and has taken leave to take part in the election process.

“We are a small village; all the political parties have come here. But we will vote for our community. We know that Sriramulu is contesting from here and we belong to his community,” Ramappa said, clearly indicating that caste is the factor that will determine the contest.

A file image of Siddaramaiah at Shivayogi temple in Badami, Karnataka| Rohini Swamy/ThePrint

Siddaramaiah, who visited the constituency to campaign only for the second time, was welcomed by huge crowds not just consisting of supporters, but also those who wanted to click selfies with him. Shankar, a young party worker who was present at a gathering at Sree Kalidas Ayurveda Medical College, was quite excited to see the chief minister but spoke cautiously when asked what he thought of the battle for Badami. “I think it is an equal fight. People should think wisely and vote,” he said.

The Lingayat division

Suresh, a local Kuruba leader, has been ardent supporter of the Congress. “You have to understand one thing, the Bhagyas have been a big boon for all of us,” he said while waiting for his favourite leader under the scorching sun.

Bhagyas refer to the various welfare schemes launched by the Siddaramaiah government.

“My sisters can study for free; they get good healthy meals in schools, and also free textbooks. Some of the children have also got cycles. Who does all this? I am a Kuruba and I belong to his community, and we will all vote for him,” he said.

But there is a counter-argument. “Siddaramaiah has divided us, we were all living peacefully. He has focussed on one community for the benefit of a few ministers and now, we will definitely teach him a lesson,” said Hanumanthappa, a Lingayat who runs a flower shop close to the Banashankari temple in Badami.

The irony is that Siddaramaiah has been speaking about the communal and divisive politics of the BJP during his campaign in the region. But the Lingayats, over 50,000 of whom live in the area, feel that the ‘separate religion’ tag that was announced by the chief minister was more divisive than the policies adopted by the BJP.

An indicator of the mood in the Lingayat community was evident even when the chief minister visited the Shivayogi Mandir, an important destination for the Veerashaiva-Lingayats. Siddaramaiah was left red-faced when he was told that the chief pontiff, Sanganabasava Swami ji, was not there to meet him.

The mandir officials said that they were unaware of the chief minister’s visit, and the seer was travelling. The temple is opposed to the move to demarcate Veerashaiva-Lingayats as a ‘separate’ religion. Sources in the temple confirmed that when Sriramulu visited the temple, the chief pontiff was there to receive him.

Advantage Siddu?

The BJP considers the ‘Bombay-Karnataka’ region its stronghold, and believes the Lingayats, who are the single largest community in the state as well as in Badami, will help them win the seat, apart from the Sriramulu factor.

But local cable channels have been hosting debates, and one of the interesting points that has been repeatedly brought up is that Siddaramaiah is like the famous Chalukya king Pulakesin II, who “will be victorious and have claim over the people of Badami”.

Thirty kilometres from the city lies the village of Kuttanakeri, where Bheemappa Kori, a man with a sharp political sense and jovial nature, perhaps sums it up best.

Speaking about the roads and development work in the area, he talks about the Bhagyas, as well as the Siddaramaiah government’s Indira Canteen programme, which has been beneficial to the area.

“A lot of people have come and gone, telling us to vote for them, and we’ve said yes to all. But one person has given us ‘anna’ (food). We will not forget that,” Kori said.

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