”There’s a tight fight” is the oft-repeated comment of many voters in this segment known for its wooden toys and sericulture, on the election scene in this high profile Assembly constituency.
Channapatna in Ramanagara district is witnessing a high-stake battle between JD(S) leader and two-time Chief Minister H D Kumaraswmy and BJP’s C P Yogeshwara. Both belong to the dominant Vokkaliga community in the region.
The Congress has fielded Gangadhar S as its candidate.
Yogeshwara has been elected five times from the segment since 1999 as an independent, and also from the Congress, BJP and Samajwadi Party (SP). He faced defeat in the 2018 polls, with Kumaraswamy entering the fray in Channapatna.
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Kumaraswamy had then defeated Yogeshwara by 21,530 votes.
In the 2013 polls, Yogeshwara as an SP candidate defeated Kumaraswamy’s wife Anitha Kumaraswamy of JD(S) by 6,464 votes.
Both Kumaraswamy and Yogeshwara had links to the film industry. While Kumaraswamy had been a film producer, distributor and exhibitor, Yogeshwara had acted in a few films.
Most of the voters in the segment that PTI spoke to seemed as though they were not willing to openly express their choice, as they maintained, there is a ”tight fight” between Kumaraswamy and Yogeshwara.
Some sounded confused between the two, who enjoy a lot of goodwill among the people. While Yogeshwara is popular as a local and is hugely credited in the segment for his developmental works like irrigation, filling up of lakes and tanks; the people here also don’t want to lose an opportunity of electing Kumaraswamy, the ”future Chief Minister” as their candidate.
Kumaraswamy, on getting elected from Channapatna and Ramanagara in 2018, retained Channapatna; he then went on to head the JD(S)-Congress coalition government as the Chief Minister for about 14 months.
Raghu, a silk farmer who was at the silk market in Channapatna said, either of them — Kumaraswamy or Yogeshwara — can win, and it will be 16,000-odd undecided voters, who will be holding the key.
”Both of them have about 58,000-60,000 votes each, and it is the fence-sitters who will decide this election,” he said, adding that if the Congress gets more votes, it will damage Yogeshwara’s prospects. Kempegowda, a senior citizen in Dodda Mallur known for its Aprameya Swamy temple, favoured Yogeshwara, as he is from Channapatna.
”Yogeshwara got water to our tanks. Kumaraswamy did not come and meet us even once here,” he said, as he relaxed on his easy chair trying to beat the heat on a hot afternoon.
Sixty-year old Nanjunda, who owns a shop near the temple, says, ”it is Yogeshwara more than BJP here. People vote for Yogeshwara not the party here. Kumaraswamy of JD(S) has also done things like farm loan waiver, when he was CM. Congress is not here…” It is quite evident on the ground that voters relate to the BJP here, more because Yogeshwara is its candidate.
According to some people in the constituency, he lost despite his huge popularity of getting water to tanks/ lakes, because of his ”party-hopping” activities, and Kumaraswamy, who was seen as a probable CM face contesting from the seat.
”Most importantly, Yogeshwara got us water, earlier people used to go to Bengaluru in search of small jobs, now as there is water, people are doing animal husbandry, some now even own up to 10 cows,” said Nage Gowda, a farmer, adding that there is also anger against the BJP because of price rise especially cooking gas.
Though Kumaraswamy is accused of being inaccessible and not being present on the ground on a day-to-day basis compared to Yogeshwara, he is popular being a former Chief Minister and people here foresee him occupying the coveted post once again this time. Kumaraswamy is appreciated for his pro-poor approach, farm loan waiver and development of roads and other infrastructure.
There is considerable Muslim population in Channapatna, who according to local political observers may consolidate in favour of Kumaraswamy, as the Congress is comparatively not strong here, despite it coming under the home district of KPCC President D K Shivakumar. Many blame alleged ”internal understanding” between Kumaraswamy and Shivakumar for the Congress’ situation in the segment.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi too campaigned for BJP recently in the segment.
Yogeshwara, who has done door-to-door campaigning across the constituency, said, ”Channapatna was considered among dry areas and because of my efforts under the BJP government in the past to fill tanks and lakes here, the life of people in villages have improved. So people have goodwill and faith in me and I’m confident of it converting into votes in my favour.” There had been intense speculation till the last minute that Yogeshwara may go back to the Congress, despite his denials.
Kumaraswamy has said he has a strong team of loyal JD(S) workers in Channapatna and expressed confidence that people will continue to support him like they did last time. He has not been able to campaign much in the segment as he has to do so across the state; his son Nikhil is meeting party workers and voters in his absence.
”I got elected from here and became the chief minister last time and implemented schemes for the welfare of farmers and poor in a short duration, that credit goes to people here,” Kumaraswamy said, while stating that there was false propaganda against him that he did not concentrate much on the segment being the chief minister.
In the neighbouring Ramanagara segment, which is the JD(S) bastion and a Vokkaliga heartland, Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil Kumaraswamy, an actor-turned-politician is facing his first Assembly polls as the regional party’s candidate.
He had unsuccessfully contested the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in Mandya.
With Congress’ Iqbal Hussain and BJP’s Goutham Gowda in the fray from Ramanagara, according to some locals, it is a tough battle for Nikhil, in the seat earlier represented by his grandfather H D Deve Gowda (1994), father Kumaraswamy and mother Anitha Kumaraswamy.
Kumaraswamy had won the seat continuously since 2004 and went on to become Chief Minister too. As he had contested from Channapatna too in 2018, he gave up Ramanagara seat and made his wife Anitha contest from there in subsequent bypolls and ensured her victory. She is the sitting MLA from Ramanagara.
Despite being in the home district of Shivakumar, Congress had not won Ramanagara since 1999 and is aiming to consolidate Muslim votes in its favour this time. Muslims have considerable presence in the segment.