Congress appears to be giving the BJP a run for its money in the Bagalkot Lok Sabha constituency. A close contest has been set up as incumbent P C Gaddigoudar seeks his fourth win amid the heat and dust of this north Karnataka seat.
Taking on him is Veena Kashappanavar, who hails from a political family. A former zilla panchayat president, she is also the first woman picked by any party as a Lok Sabha candidate in this constituency of Lingayat stronghold.
Interestingly, the seat has become sort of a prestige issue for former chief minister Siddaramaiah who is said to have chosen Veena. The Congress-JD(S) co-ordination committee chairman represents Badami assembly segment – a part of the Bagalkot LS constituency.
The choice of Veena is seen as a deft strategic move by the Congress in terms of caste equations. Veena hails from the Panchamsali subsect among the Lingayats. This subsect has been given ticket for the first time in the last four elections by the party and the Congress leaders feel this will help the party. The party has also fielded Panchamsalis in four neighbouring LS seats as well.
The Panchamsalis and another Lingayat subsect – Ganigas, to which Gaddigoudar belongs – have about 1.5 lakh votes each. The Raddis too are in good number. The Congress hopes to split the Panchamsali votes and expects a good chunk of Raddi votes as well, besides votes of other sects of Lingayats. It is also banking on the 2.5 lakh strong Kuruba (to which Siddaramaiah belongs) votes, besides Muslims and Dalits.
Soon after the announcement of the candidate, the Congress faced some anxious moments as some senior leaders of the party expressed reservations over the choice and refused to campaign for Veena. However, Siddaramaiah intervened and pacified them.
Veena’s husband, former MLA Vijayanand, had publicly riled against senior leaders for his defeat in the last assembly elections. He, however, apologised for it recently.
As against this, BJP is confident of getting a majority of the Lingayat votes – it feels its strong network spread across the entire constituency will come to its aid. Riding on this network, the party won six of the eight assembly segments in this LS constituency in 2018.
Gaddigoudar, responding to reports of anti-incumbency against him, said, instead, his work in bringing in several infrastructure projects and implementation of central welfare schemes will see him through.
Veena says her rival has done nothing for the constituency. “He may not have done much but he is a decent person and is easily accessible,” says Vinay Sharan, a student. Lack of job opportunities continues to be the major issue in the elections besides paucity of drinking water. There is a demand to start more medical, engineering and vocational courses in the constituency.