Why Congress fielding children of ministers in Karnataka is a win-win situation

The sitting ministers are reluctant to fight the Lok Sabha elections

20-Sunil-Bose-Samyuktha-Patil From left- Sunil Bose, Samyuktha Patil, Mrinal Hebbalkar, Sagar Khandre, Priyanka Jarkiholi, Sowmya Reddy

With the debate on ‘dynasty politics’ dominating the election discourse in Karnataka, and with all three major parties picking family members to be “on the safe side”, the ruling Congress has tried a new experiment―fielding children of sitting ministers. Apparently, the ministers were reluctant to give up their cabinet berths. Insiders say it is a win-win for the ministers and the party―the party hopes the ministers’ influence would help it win, and the ministers are happy to fund the election to launch their children.

Insiders say it is a win-win for the ministers and the party―the party hopes the ministers’ influence would help it win, and the ministers are happy to fund the election to launch their children.
“In my political career spanning four decades, I have not seen the party give tickets to so many youth, women and new faces in the Lok Sabha polls.” ―D.K. Shivakumar, Karnataka Congress president and deputy chief minister

Even though Congress leaders argue that the candidates were selected based on elaborate surveys and stringent scrutiny, the final choices were a giveaway. Opposition leaders even said that the Congress, which is complaining of fund crunch as its accounts have been frozen, is forced to rely on the ministers to mobilise resources.

The party has fielded Priyanka Jarkiholi, 27, daughter of Public Works Department Minister Satish Jarkiholi from Chikkodi; Mrinal Hebbalkar, 31, son of Women and Child Development Minister Laxmi Hebbalkar from Belagavi; Sagar Khandre, 26, son of Forest Minister Eshwar Khandre from Bidar; Samyuktha Patil, 29, daughter of Sugarcane Development and Textiles Minister Shivanand Patil from Bagalkot; Sunil Bose, 42, son of Social Welfare Minister Dr H.C. Mahadevappa from Chamarajanagar (SC seat); and former MLA Sowmya Reddy, 41, daughter of Transport Minister Ramalinga Reddy from Bangalore South.

Interestingly, the announcement was no big surprise as the aspirants had been quietly campaigning for months. Bagging a ticket does not guarantee success; the newbies have to fight rebellion within the party and political opponents who are banking on the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Priyanka, an MBA graduate, has been serving on the board of at least 10 sugar, granite and horticulture ventures and holds stakes in four other companies. Belagavi, a politically significant region with 18 assembly segments, is next only to Bengaluru with 28. Politics in the district has always been controlled by many powerful Lingayat families, mostly sugar barons―Kattis, Kores, Koujalgis and Jolles. But the Jarkiholi brothers, from the Bedara-Nayaka scheduled tribe community in Gokak, are the latest entrants into this ecosystem. They have gathered enough clout by bagging excise contracts and setting up sugar factories, and with their unique political strategy of the brothers contesting from different political parties.

Of the five brothers―Ramesh, Satish, Balachandra, Bheemshi and Lakhan―three are MLAs. Satish (Yemkanmardi) is with the Congress, Ramesh (Gokak) and Balachandra (Arabhavi) are BJP MLAs and Lakhan is an MLC. This time, the brothers might come together to ensure Priyanka’s victory against BJP MP Annasaheb Jolle.

Mrinal Hebbalkar, a civil engineer, has been vice-president of the Belagavi district Youth Congress for two terms. Along with his minister mother, his maternal uncle Channaraj Hattiholi, an MLC, is leading his campaign. However, winning Belagavi will not be a cakewalk as Laxmi had lost the 2013 assembly and 2014 Lok Sabha elections there because of rebels. She won the 2018 and 2023 assembly polls from Belagavi Rural to become part of the Siddaramaiah cabinet. Mrinal will take on the BJP’s Jagadish Shettar. “I will work with senior leaders and party workers to ensure we win Belagavi; the party has lost it the last five times. We are banking on the success of the five guarantees delivered by the Congress government in Karnataka,” said Mrinal, adding that the people were seeking change and would vote for a candidate who was accessible.

At 26, Sagar Khandre is among the younger candidates in the fray. A law graduate from Christ University, he has served as state secretary of the National Students’ Union of India and is currently the secretary of Shanti Vardhak Education Society, which runs a chain of educational institutions.

22-Shivakumar D.K. Shivakumar | Sanjoy Ghosh

Having been actively involved in Bhalki, his father’s assembly constituency, he will now take on BJP MP and former Union minister Bhagwant Khuba in Bidar. “The party has conducted many surveys, identified a couple of winning candidates and finally chose me,” he said. “My father was informed that Rajashekhar Patil sir would get the ticket from Bidar. But things changed after Rajashekhar sir himself supported my candidature saying I had worked hard in the constituency. I am a native of Bidar and have always mingled with the people. The incumbent has not met the people’s expectations.”

He told reporters that when he had lost all hope of securing the ticket, he met a stranger in a Delhi restaurant who gave him an image of Lord Ram on learning that he was a ticket aspirant. “This stranger from Madhya Pradesh said I would not only get the ticket, but would also win the seat,” he said. “Within 10 minutes after I received the image, I got a call saying I had got the ticket. So, I firmly believe that Lord Ram has blessed me. I will be accessible to the people of my constituency 24/7.”

Samyuktha Patil, a law graduate from Christ University, is the CEO of Sparsh Foundation, an NGO working to empower rural women, and director at the Vijaypur District Central Cooperative Bank Ltd. She was elected state general secretary of the Youth Congress a couple of years ago and is set to make her electoral debut. However, this has led to rebellion and another aspirant, Veena, wife of MLA Vijayanand Kashappanavar, had also thrown her hat into the ring. “In politics we are prepared to face competition and Veena is like my elder sister,” said Samyuktha. “She is justified in seeking a ticket. We will fight the elections unitedly. We have planned many campaigns and we are confident the Congress government’s guarantee schemes have benefitted women and the youth.”

Sowmya, daughter of Transport Minister Ramalinga Reddy, made her electoral debut in 2018 by defeating the BJP’s Prahlad Babu by a slim margin of around 2,800 votes in the assembly elections. A chemical engineer with a master’s degree in environmental technology from New York Institute of Technology, Sowmya has been vice-president of the Indian Youth Congress in Bengaluru before engaging with the women’s wing of the party and later the Congress. However, she lost in 2023 and will now take on BJP MP Tejasvi Surya from Bangalore South.

Sunil Bose, son of Social Welfare Minister Dr H.C. Mahadevappa, will contest from Chamarajanagar. The social worker, agriculturist and businessman (according to his affidavit), was denied a ticket in last May’s assembly elections. But he was later appointed as a member of the Karnataka development programme committee in the T. Narasipur assembly constituency and has previously served as the chairman of the housing awareness committee in the same constituency when his father was the PWD minister in 2017.

The list of dynasts is only growing. While the Congress has given more than a dozen tickets to the kin of ministers―including Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge’s son-in-law Radhakrishna Doddamani from Kalaburagi―the BJP has given six and Janata Dal (Secular) has fielded two (Hassan and Mandya) from the H.D. Deve Gowda family.

Said BJP spokesperson S. Prakash: “The Congress could not even find able candidates. As most of the ministers refused to contest, the party is forced to field proxy candidates, mostly their sons and daughters. The loyal party workers have been completely ignored. It is clear that the Congress has conceded defeat even before the campaign has started.”

Congress state president and Deputy Chief Minister D.K. Shivakumar defended his party saying that it had given the highest number of tickets to new faces. “In my political career spanning four decades, I have not seen the party give tickets to so many youth, women and new faces in the Lok Sabha polls,” he said. “I am confident of winning the elections and of these newcomers emerging as leaders in the future. Also, we have given tickets to party workers who have shown both zeal and commitment towards the party.”