The elections for the 14 Lok Sabha seats on April 26 in Karnataka has 247 contestants in the fray. This is the final number after 52 candidates, largely Independents, withdrew their names.

Twenty-one women candidates are contesting the elections this time. The two-stage polls this year are particularly important for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Janata Dal-Secular (JDS) alliance and the Congress led by Chief Minister, Siddaramaiah, and his Deputy CM, D. K. Shivakumar.

Elections for the remaining 14 seats are scheduled for May 7.

In the 2019 Parliamentary polls, the BJP won 25 of the total 28 seats from Karnataka, with the JDS,Congress and an Independent, accounting for one each. The BJP is seeking to replicate its

performance this time, maybe even improve on it with the JDS’ help.

The Congress appears unperturbed, and is determined to puncture the Opposition’s hopes. The state Congress, under its two strongmen, is banking on the five guarantees that it has implemented since coming to power in 2023. It is targeting a win in 20 Parliamentary seats, confident of an astronomical jump from its single digit figure in 2019.

It hopes to capitalise on what is termed “the Modi government’s failure to release the much needed drought relief for the state”. The growing fissures in the BJP are also a factor.

Faced with the challenge posed by the BJP through Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his “development plank”, the CM and his Dy. CM are exuding confidence that their “freebies” for the people would help the party in realising its target.

In this context, it is not uncommon to hear reports that a section of Congress supporters have ‘warned’ that the continuation of these benefits will depend on the party’s victory.

Significantly, both Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar hold sway in the majority of the constituencies, with special emphasis on the backward and Vokkaligas communities, the main vote banks in the first poll segment. The Mysuru-Chamrajnagar-Mandya- Hassan belt holds considerable importance for the two leaders.

The BJP and the Congress candidates will be facing each other directly in at least 11 constituencies as the main contestants. In the remaining three, Siddaramaiah’s party will take on the JDS with Mandya,Hassan and Kolar, providing the poll excitement.

Former Prime Minister, Deve Gowda’s son-in-law, Dr C. Manjunath, a political novice, is pitted against D. K. Suresh, incumbent MP and Shivakumar’s brother, in Bengaluru Rural. That too on a BJP ticket.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the first phase has been termed by analysts as the “battle of the Vokkaligas”, as members from the community dominate the list of candidates from all parties.The Vokkaligas feature in ten of the 11 general constituencies.

This community accounts for over 30 per cent of the electorate in the constituencies that are going to the polls on April 26. The remaining three seats: Chamrajnagar,Kolar and Chitradurga fall under the reserved category.

Another interesting aspect of the first phase of polling is that Union Minister Shobha Karandlaje and BJP’s MP, Tejas Surya ,are involved in a head-to-head fight with the Congress in Bengaluru

North and Bengaluru South, respectively.

Yaduveer Krishnadatta Chamaraja Wadiyar, the scion of the Mysuru royal family, is making his debut, fighting to retain the Kodagu-Mysuru seat for the BJP. This was won by Pratap Simhan who was not nominated by the BJP this time.

The ruling JDS-Congress combine in Karnataka had failed miserably in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, bagging only a seat each . Traditionally too, the ruling parties in the state do not fare

well in Parliamentary polls, something that the BJP is banking on this time.

However, the Congress argues otherwise, maintaining that alliances have never worked in the state. This has made the contest even more challenging for the contenders.

The Lingayat Factor

The BJP, which all along has been dependent on the blessings of the Lingayat seers as the community comprises its major vote bank, has now incurred the wrath of a prominent swami or religious leader from the sect.

Fakir Dingaleshwara Swami, a leading Lingayat seer from Dharwad, has decided to contest as an Independent against incumbent MP Prahlad Joshi, who is also the Union Minister for Coal. The seer is said to be angry with the BJP, accusing it of “patronising Joshi, a Brahmin, since a long time, while ignoring the Kuruba, Reddy and Jangamma communities”.

Swami, who initially was supported by the pontiffs of other Lingayat mutts in the state, now finds himself alone in the fight against Joshi and the BJP. Those supporters have quietened down.

The Lingayat pontiff alleged that “the incumbent MP did not contribute anything to develop the constituency but instead busied himself ”subjugating leaders from other communities.” Swami also

lashed out at the BJP for fielding Brahmin candidates: Prahlad Joshi, Tejasvi Surya and Visveshwar Hegde Kageri (Uttar Kannada).

Swami also blames Joshi for “undermining former chief minister and Lingayat strongman, B. S. Yediyurappa, in the past”. Swami says he plans to file his nomination as an Independent from Dharwad on April 19 to “teach Joshi a lesson”. Elections for Dharwad, Joshi’s pocket borough, will be held on May 7.

The BJP’s problems, however, do not stop here. K. Easwarappa, a Kuruba leader and one-time former Deputy CM in the BJP-run government, has decided to contest against B. Raghavendra, incumbent MP from Shimoga.

Raghavendra is the son of former CM B. S. Yediyurappa. Raghavendra’s brother, B. Vijayendra is the BJP’s state unit president.

The senior BJP leader is annoyed with Yediyurappa and family for not pushing the case of his own son, Kantesh, for a Lok Sabha ticket. Eashwarappa’s sole aim now is to humble the Yediyurappa family by fighting against Raghvendra as an Independent. Meanwhile, he continues to be a proponent of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

This explains why recently while leading a procession on his way to filing his nomination as an Independent, he had with him, Sadananad Nayak, a ‘Modi look-alike’. Nayak, a professional cook, was a hit with the onlookers and Easwarappa’s supporters, much to the delight of the disgruntled leader.

Meanwhile, all attempts by the party’s leadership at the state and central levels to dissuade the Lingayat seer and Eashwarappa from embarrassing it, have failed.This explains why a nervous Joshi

has chosen to remain quiet and not react to anything that the seer has said against him so far.

Yeddiyurappa’s family too has been rattled by the developments in Shimoga and Dharwad. It fears that the Lingayat seer’s action, in particular, could have a ripple effect on the community, which in turn could affect BJP’s chances.

The BJP is equally concerned by the reactions of the relatives and supporters of the 15 MPs who have been dropped this time. Particularly, the MPs’ kin who wanted a ticket to contest elections. Many of these aggrieved supporters have stayed away from canvassing for the party.

Visually Challenged Candidate Makes History

Dilip Nagappa Boosa became, perhaps, the first visually challenged person to file his nomination as a candidate for the Lok Sabha polls from the Bidar constituency. He will be contesting as an Independent, according to reports from the constituency.

A musician by profession, the 12th pass candidate wants the government to reserve a few seats for the physically challenged in Parliament. Boosa read his oath in Braille at the Bidar Deputy Commissioner’s office. He plans to visit all the villages in his constituency with his supporters.