ON Saturday, Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah will make his first visit to Badami, one of the two seats he is contesting. On his itinerary is a closed-door meeting with leaders of 14 Dalit, backward and linguistic groups, individually small with 3,000-4,000 votes each, but together large enough to potentially swing the result.
Once the capital of the Chalukya empire and now a tourist destination with rock-cut temples and sculptures, this North Karnataka town has long awaited infrastructure to boost tourism. Even the widening of the road leading to the town has taken years and incomplete. Connectivity to big cities remains poor.
Although Siddaramaiah’s decision to contest is largely seen as symbolic, driven by uncertainty in Chamundeshwari, Badami has earned a high profile with the contest between him and BJP MP B Sriramulu. Sriramulu, also contesting two seats, has spent just two days in Badami so far. He will return next week with BJP president Amit Shah.
Here, the CM will face a personal test of his move to propose religious minority status to Lingayats. Badami is among seven seats in Bagalkot district; the Congress holds six. It won Badami polling 57,000 votes in 2013 while rival parties — JD(S) with 42,000, BJP with 30,000 and B S Yeddyurappa’s KJP with 3,000 votes — shared over 75,000 votes among them. The addition is significant because the KJP has merged with the BJP while the then JD(S) candidate, local Lingayat leader Mahantesh Mamadapur, is now in the BJP. The then BJP candidate, M K Pattanashetti, too is a Lingayat.
“There was a division in Lingayat votes last time, but we are united this time,” Mamadapur tells The Indian Express. The JD(S) candidate this time is a Panchamasali Lingayat (a community that forms one-tenth of Lingayat voters), a former Congress block president.
Sriramulu is banking on both Lingayat and Valmiki voters, together the majority. During his only visit, he breakfasted at the house of a Panchamasali Lingayat.
Amid the prospect of Linagyat votes consolidating, the CM has focused on non-Lingayat votes too. The Kuruba community, which has 40,000 votes, is seen to be behind him. “The talk is only about Kurubas. Can you win ignoring the others?” a Marathi shopkeeper tells The Indian Express.
This underlines the importance of the meeting Saturday with 14 groups including Kambars, Kumbars and Badyars. Muslim leaders of the Congress met with community leaders Friday to stress their votes should not be divided. The CM will also visit Shivayogi Mandir, a Lingayat temple.
Siddaramaiah has deputed Satish Jarkiholi to spearhead his campaign, one objective being to reach out to the Valmiki Nayaka community to which Sriramulu belongs. In the list of others managing the campaign, caste calculations are visible: S R Patil (Reddy Lingayat), minister Ramappa B Timmapur (Dalit) and C M Ibrahim (Muslim); party affairs are being managed by KPCC general secretary Parasmal Jain.
“Badami is a bit backward . People used to go to Goa and Bengaluru for work. The Anna Bhagya scheme has changed that. Every person is given 7 kg rice a month… people are no more migrating. The CM has also waived loans of farmers… We feel the CM is in a comfortable position,” Jain tells The Indian Express.
Pattanashetti says if the BJP returns to power, Badami will gain. Leaders say mass weddings organised by Sriramulu have benefited many. Sriramulu has promised to develop tourism, address drinking water issues and introduce measures for weavers. The latter are a sizeable constituency; Union Textile Minister Smriti Irani will campaign in Badami.