Updated: October 25, 2021 10:11:40 pm
“In the history of Hanagal, I have never seen such a fierce battle where state leaders of all parties and the chief minister are campaigning intensively for so many days,” says 80-year-old Krishnappa Talwar at the Akki Alur village in the Hanagal constituency of Karnataka’s Haveri district where a crucial by-election is set to be held on October 30.
The Hanagal by-election is being seen as a litmus test for the new Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai since the constituency falls in his home district of Haveri. Though the 2.04 lakh voters of the constituency will pick an MLA only for a short term of 18 months, the results are expected to have a bearing on Bommai’s standing as a BJP leader who will lead the party into the 2023 state Assembly polls.
Hanagal, a taluk located 38 km away from the district headquarters at Haveri, is also equidistant from Shiggaon which Bommai represents.
The constituency which majorly houses farmers and labourers is in the limelight like never before.
The by-election is being held after veteran six-time MLA CM Udasi, who was with the BJP in his final years, passed away in June.
Incidentally, this will be the first time that in around four decades that an election in Hanagal will have two major political actors missing—Udasi and veteran Congress leader Manohar Tahsildar.
To swing votes in its favour, the BJP is trying to create a narrative that projects Bommai as the son-in-law of the Hanagal constituency and the son of the Haveri district. The BJP MP for Haveri, Shivakumar Udasi, who is the son of CM Udasi, has joined the campaign to draw the votes of family loyalists. This, despite the fact that for the first time in 43 years no member of the Udasi family is in the fray this time.
The BJP has fielded its Haveri district president Shivaraj Sajjanar.
The opposition Congress party on the other hand has fielded Srinivas Mane, who helped locals during the Covid-19 crisis. An eye hospital in Hanagal which Mane established in collaboration with a private institution has earned him accolades.
Mane, who had contested the 2018 polls on a Congress ticket lost to CM Udasi by 6,514 votes. However, he continued to show his presence in the constituency during the Covid crisis while Udasi spent many days in the hospital and his son, an MP, was not seen in the region.
The constituency has been seeing constant electioneering activities, including roadshows of political leaders, public meetings and door-to-door campaigns. Locals say that both the BJP and the Congress are spending an unprecedented amount of funds to win the “prestige poll” in Hanagal.
However, even the grassroots workers of the main parties are unable to arrive at a definite conclusion on which way the wind is blowing in the constituency. A good amount of votes may shift at any time and the last two days before the elections are held will be crucial, say locals.
Top BJP leaders, including CM Bommai and former CM B S Yediyurappa, have been campaigning for the polls.
When The Indian Express visited multiple villages in the constituency it was evident that the BJP is using its best resources to pull out a win. BJP ministers including K Sudhakar, BC Patil, and MLA Munirathna Naidu and several others have been camping in the constituency. Bommai last week held back-to-back public meetings for two days with former chief minister BS Yedyiurappa.
At Chikkanshi Hosur, when Yedyiurappa campaigned on Saturday, Prakash Pujar, a villager, said that there was an evident shift towards BJP. “It was definitely a disappointment the way Yedyiurappa was treated when he resigned. The Congress did have the upper hand for a while over her. But now, looking at his speech, many would think twice of voting against the BJP as there is a lot at stake.”
When The Indian Express visited Akki Alur where BJP MLA Munirathna is camping, voters expressed angst stating that local issues “were not being highlighted” in the run-up to the polls. “Neither Hanagal town nor Akki Alur has a super-specialty hospital. All of them are making big promises but most of them are nowhere concerned with the Hanagal constituency. They are using the word development very often and we are still unable to understand what is the definition according to them,” Shruthi Savanur, a labourer, said.
The local leaders who are campaigning say that a JD(S) candidate and an Independent could decide the fate of the BJP and Congress candidates. “Whoever wins, it will not be by a margin of more that 5,000 votes. What can hamper the prospects of Congress is that there are two Muslim candidates who are contesting who are potential pullers of minority votes. JD(S) has fielded Niyaz Shaikh, while a long time Congress worker and two-time taluk president Nazeer Ahmad Savanur is contesting as an independent candidate. The more votes they get, the more it will hurt the Congress and put the BJP in the driving seat,” said Imtiyaz Hangal, a local worker.
The elections have also turned out to be a big relief for many of the workers as the constituency is buzzing round the clock with campaigning activities. Some of them who lost jobs due to Covid-19 or are unable to earn a living are busy campaigning for parties which are ready to give away a good sum. “Elections have turned out to be a much-needed relief. I am working for Congress and they are paying me Rs 300 for holding door-to-door campaigns,” said 39-year-old Akthar Hasan, a carpenter by profession who has not had many jobs since the Covid-19 crisis.
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