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Who will win Karnataka's 'mini Ayodhya' this time?

March 21, 2014 14:28 IST

The vast Udupi-Chikmagalur parliamentary constituency, which belonged to the Bharatiya Janata Party in the years 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2009, slipped out of its hands in 2012. While the Hindu factor may or may not work in its favour here, the party remains sure of a win. Vicky Nanjappa gives you an inside view of who is who in the political fray in this region

The Udupi-Chikmagalur constituency came into existence after the delimitation in 2008. Today, it comprises four assembly segments from Udupi and four from Chickmagalur.

This constituency, which shot to the limelight over the Datta Peetham issue, also known as the ‘mini Ayodhya’ issue would see a direct battle between Shobha Karandlage of the BJP and sitting Congress Member of Parliament K Jayaprakash Hegde.

While it is expected to be a hotly contested battle between the two, there is no overlooking the fact that former BJP MP Dhananjay Kumar will contest from here on a Janata Dal-Secular ticket this time.

One must also remember when this constituency was only Chikmagalur, former prime minister Indira Gandhi had won from here in 1978 after being defeated in Rai Bairelly. This constituency has over 13.5 lakh voters, of which 6.9 lakh voters are in the Udupi district and 6.5 lakh in the Chikmagalur district.

The BJP, which has been winning this seat since 1998, will however find the going tough this time. The loss to the Congress in the 2012 by elections was the first turning point for the BJP. The scales have tilted so much that even former chief minister D Sadananda Gowda, who was an MP from this constituency in 2009, opted for Bangalore North instead

The BJP has always relied heavily on the Hindu factor from this constituency. The Datta Peetham issue is a big deal in Chikmagalur, and the party had endorsed it, which gave it an edge over all other parties. Hindus were united in their support for the BJP over this issue.

The Datta Peetham issue

Chikmagalur houses the dargah of Baba Budan, a Sufi saint, and is venerated by the both Hindus and Muslims, but there have been demands for its ‘liberation’ on the ground that there used to be a Lord Dattatreya temple on the site. The tussle was so intense back in the 1990s that it was even called as mini Ayodhya by many.

However, over the years several Hindu groups have alleged that the BJP has only been using the issue to win the elections, and has never done anything about it despite it coming to power in Karnataka.

How the tide turned

The turning point was in 2012, when Gowda stepped down as MP and became the chief minister. In the meanwhile, Hegde defeated Sunil Kumar of the BJP by 56,000 votes.

The BJP lost in 2012 due to infighting, says a source. Analysts would also point out that it was the complete chaos in the party that it led to its defeat in 2012. At that time, Gowda had also accused former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa of turning against the BJP which resulted in a Congress win.

The BJP however argues that 2012 cannot be a precursor to what will happen in 2014. When Karandlage sets out to campaign, she will face a lot of questions in Chikmagalur such as the Datta Peetham issue, and also the reason for her quitting the BJP and then coming back again to fight the elections.

But the BJP is confident of a win. Jeevraj, who heads the BJP unit in Chikmagalur says that there is still a very strong Hindutva wave in this area.

“The same wave along with the Modi factor will be crucial in Udupi as well,” he points out.

Hegde on the other hand is confident about his victory. He says that after he came to power, he has ensured some amount of serenity and a lot of development in this constituency. He has a good following both in Chikmagalur as well as Udupi.

The BJP’s gamble

Karandlage is banking heavily on the women voters in the constituency. Interestingly, the women outnumber the men in this constituency -- 6.9 lakh women, compared with 6.6 lakh men.

“Women are my main plank and they feel that only a woman can solve their problems,” says Karandlage when asked. “This election will be fought on a development plank alone and I intend to do a lot for the empowerment of women,” she adds.

The Congress is however quick to dismiss her claim and alleges that she will do nothing.

“She kept quiet when women were attacked at pubs in Mangalore. She should have resigned in protest if she really cared about women,” says state Minister for Urban Development Vinay Sorake, while inaugurating the campaign for Hegde.

There was a lot of tussle before the announcement of a BJP candidate for this seat. The BJP originally wanted to field Karandlage from the Mysore constituency, but then both she and Yeddyurappa were against it. On the other hand, Prathap Simha, the Mysore candidate for the BJP said that he would have preferred Chikmagalur.

However Yeddyurappa, prevailed over the BJP and ensured that Karandlage was fielded from Chikmagalur. Both Yeddyurappa and Karandlage felt that Mysore is a tough constituency for the BJP and she was destined to lose, had she contested from there.

They feel they are up with a better chance in Udupi-Chikmagalur as they believe there will be a polarisation of the Hindu votes in favour of the BJP.

Vicky Nanjappa in Bangalore