Updated: April 16, 2021 8:07:00 am
In the sugarcane-growing, water-rich, feudal region of Belagavi in north Karnataka, use of sting videos to trigger the fall of political rivals is not exactly new.
The by-election to Belagavi Lok Sabha seat, triggered by the death of four-time BJP MP Suresh Angadi, takes place on Saturday in the backdrop of a video allegedly involving Ramesh Jarkiholi, BJP MLA and former state minister who was forced to resign in March after being accused of rape by a woman in the video.
Twenty years ago, a secretly recorded video of an act of alleged corruption had led to the downfall of then state Congress chief V S Koujalgi, leading to the rise of the Jarkiholis brothers as a major force in Belagavi politics.
Satish Jarkiholi, a sugar baron and leader of the region, was then linked to the recording of video which caused the downfall of Koujalgi, the then state Congress chief and a Lingayat community leader, 20 years ago. Satish Jarkiholi is now the Congress candidate for the bypolls, while the BJP has fielded the politically inexperienced Mangala Suresh Angadi, the late MP’s wife.
As campaigning wound up, the question in Belagavi is whether the Jarkiholi brothers — now spread across the BJP and the Congress — will put family pride over their political allegiances for the bypolls.
The question of which side the Jarkiholis will lean on has been all the more vexing given that state Congress chief D K Shivakumar has been linked by members of the family to creation of the video against Ramesh Jarkiholi, eldest of the five siblings.
While both Congress and BJP did not use the CD issue in the by-election campaign, the Jarkiholi brothers — barring Satish, the Congress contestant — were not part of the BJP’s campaign until Wednesday, when Balachandra Jarkiholi, MLA from Arabhavi region (formerly represented by Koujalgi), turned out for the first time at a campaign meeting in Mudalgi town of Gokak taluk alongside Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa.
Ramesh Jarkiholi, the Gokak MLA who reportedly tested positive for Covid-19, did not feature at a BJP roadshow late Wednesday, even though he has reportedly been discharged from hospital.
The support of the Jarkiholi brothers in Gokak and Arabhavi is considered key by the BJP for a victory of Mangala Suresh Angadi.
A BJP worker said on the sidelines of the Mudalgi rally: “There is no question of the brothers not backing the BJP. Two days ago Balachandra Jarkiholi made it clear that all of us should work for the BJP candidate’s victory. Ramesh Jarkiholi is supporting us through his brother in law. Even Lakhan Jarkiholi (who is in the Congress) is tacitly supporting the BJP candidate.”
Balachandra said: “I have cleared all doubts of supporters. We will not cheat the party. Our fight is against the Congress, not any individual.” He said that Union minister Pralhad Joshi has “promised to take care of implementing Central programmes in the constituency and CM Yediyurappa will support at the state level”.
Yediyurappa, who campaigned in Belagavi for two days in the final lap, said Balachandra Jarkiholi’s presence in the campaign was a “big boost”, and with his support the BJP can “effectively win the bypoll”.
The BJP, which is largely backing on sympathy for Mangala Angadi and the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has internal problems in the region, as some party leaders were aggrieved with Mangala Angadi’s candidature.
“This is an election that no one wanted and there is no great interest in it except for the parties. The `CD lady’ issue is not going to be an issue at all. This region has developed when Suresh Angadi was the MP. No MP worked for the region like Angady did, and people will vote for his wife,” Basavaraj M, a shop owner in Mudalgi, said.
“Yes, Ramesh Jarkiholi may have done something wrong with the `CD lady’, but other things like her parents’ comments suggest other agenda as well,” he said.
Unlike the BJP, which is pulling out all stops to ensure a victory for Mangala Angadi, the Congress is relying largely on Satish Jarkiholi’s capacity to win the polls. Thus, while prominent BJP leaders have campaigned for Mangala Angadi through the past few weeks, the Congress campaign has been more muted and left to the wiles of its candidate.
“If I win the by-election it will be a promotion for me and I will go to Delhi. If I lose, there will be no change in my situation,” Satish Jarkiholi has said on the campaign trail.
He also said, “Even in the Modi wave last time, the Congress got over 3 lakh votes. We have our own support base (here). Many Congress voters who voted BJP because of Modi are now likely to return to us.”
Satish Jarkiholi’s supporters say that a victory in the by-election could help establish him as a top future leader of Belagavi region while also restoring the pride of the Jarkiholi family.
“Satish Jarkiholi has his own support base in Belagavi. He is a powerful leader to whom a lot of people swear allegiance,” said Guru Nayak, a worker in Belagavi city. “He is not going to be a walkover. There are issues such as rise in fuel, LPG prices and loss of jobs. Many ordinary people who supported Modi and voted for Angadi are (now) upset. The BJP has lost some sheen.”
The Belagavi Lok Sabha seat has around 35 per cent voters from the dominant Lingayat community, to which the BJP candidate belongs, and an equal number from backward castes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, including the Valmiki Nayak group of the Congress candidate.
The sizeable Marathi-speaking voters, especially in Belagavi city, will also play a key role, and an alliance forged by the Shiv Sena and the local Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti is expected to eat into BJP votes.
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