Karnataka polls: Defections, ego battles and caste-based tactics set up key contests

Siddaramaiah's Varuna among five constituencies which could see interesting battles

40-Siddaramaiah Siddaramaiah | Bhanu Prakash Chandra


Former chief minister Siddaramaiah, 75, ended his hunt for a safe seat by filing his nomination from Varuna in his home district of Mysuru.

The incumbent MLA is his son Dr Yathindra. The Kuruba strongman will face Housing Minister V. Somanna, 72, a Lingayat leader who has been tactfully picked by the BJP to tie Siddaramaiah down in his own constituency.

Siddaramaiah, who is embroiled in a power tussle with Karnataka Congress president D.K. Shivakumar, had hoped to contest from a second seat (like he had done in 2018, fearing sabotage). But, the party denied him a second ticket owing to pressure from his detractors.

Interestingly, Somanna, the MLA from Govindraj Nagar (Bengaluru), is also facing a challenging situation in his party. He is expected to prove his leadership by winning the seat for the party. And, the BJP has also tasked him with winning Chamarajnagar (a seat he wanted to contest). Both seats have sizeable Lingayat population.

The JD(S) fielding Bharathi Shankar, a dalit candidate, would work in favour of the BJP as it would split the Congress’s dalit votes.


41-Shivakumar D.K. Shivakumar | Bhanu Prakash Chandra

Known as D.K. Shivakumar’s fiefdom, the constituency usually sees one-sided fights. But, this time, Shivakumar is facing fellow Vokkaliga and Revenue Minister R. Ashok. The BJP, similar to its tact in Varuna, is hoping keep the Congress candidate busy in his own constituency.

Shivakumar has won the seat in Ramanagara district seven times. Ashok is also contesting from his own constituency―Padmanabhanagar in Bengaluru. He is in the fray in Kanakapura as part of the BJP’s plan to expand in the Old Mysuru region―the Vokkaliga heartland. The aim is to increase its vote share and groom Vokkaliga leaders.


41-Kumaraswamy H.D. Kumaraswamy | Bhanu Prakash Chandra

Former chief minister and sitting MLA H.D. Kumaraswamy will be take on fellow Vokkaliga, former minister and BJP candidate C.P. Yogeeshwara, who has won the seat five times from different political parties. The Congress is fielding a Muslim candidate from the Vokkaliga-dominated constituency, effectively turning it into a straight fight between the BJP and the JD(S).


41-Jagadish-Shettar Jagadish Shettar | Bhanu Prakash Chandra

The poll to the seat, which is in the Lingayat belt, would have been uneventful if the BJP had given the ticket to former chief minister and six-time MLA Jagadish Shettar, 67. But its decision to blood a younger partyworker saw Shettar quit the party in a huff. The ticket went to state general secretary Mahesh Tenginkai, who belongs to the same sub-sect of Lingayats (Banajiga) as Shettar.

To the shock of many in the saffron party, Shettar, whose family had been associated with the Jan Sangh and the RSS for long, joined the Congress. This, despite the BJP promising him a plum post at the Centre. The cadre must now decide whether to work for their leader who has joined the enemy camp or to ensure a win for the “ordinary” partyworker Tenginkai.


41-Laxman-Savadi Laxman Savadi | Bhanu Prakash Chandra

The seat, which is in the politically significant Belagavi district, will see a battle of two egos. Former minister and ST leader Ramesh Jarkiholi secured the BJP ticket for his aide and sitting MLA Mahesh Kumathalli. But, as a result, former deputy chief minister Laxman Savadi quit the BJP to join the Congress.

Kumathalli was one of the 14 rebel Congress MLAs who joined the BJP in 2019 during “Operation Kamala”―the BJP toppled the JD(S)-Congress coalition and formed the government. Savadi, a Gaaniga Lingayat leader, rose through the ranks in the BJP. He was elected thrice from Athani before Kumathalli, a Panchamasali Lingayat, defeated him in 2018 on a Congress ticket.

A year later, Savadi was forced to campaign for Kumathalli, the BJP candidate, in the Athani bypoll. To pacify Savadi, the BJP had appointed him one of three deputy chief ministers and also made him the transport minister. But, that was not enough to stop him from jumping ship after the party gave the Athani ticket to Kumathalli again.