Straight fight in Dharwad

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After almost two decades, the stage has been set for an intense electoral battle in Dharwad parliamentary constituency. Although 17 candidates are the in fray, it is a straight fight between Pralhad Joshi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Vinay Kulkarni of the Congress. Candidates like Pramod Muthalik (Independent) and Hemant Kumar (Aam Aadmi Party) could have a bearing on the fate of the BJP and Congress candidates, by taking away a portion of the traditional votes.

The BJP and the Sangh Parivar have engaged their full strength to ensure a hat-trick for Mr. Joshi. Door-to-door visits and roadshows are gaining momentum by the day. Mr. Joshi defeated Congress nominee Manjunath Kunnur by a margin of 1.37 lakh votes in the 2009 elections.

It may not be that easy this time around. While a victory will take him to different heights in politics, a defeat may cause irreparable damage.

Riding on the ‘Modi wave’ on the one hand and the issue of corruption of the UPA regime on the other may well be an advantage for him. But, the corruption in the previous BJP government and allegations of Mr. Joshi neglecting to visit his constituency could work against him. Veteran journalist Patil Puttappa giving an open call to teach a bitter lesson to the BJP for its leader’s alleged involvement in the Hubli playground issue could be a setback for Mr. Joshi.

Mr. Kulkarni, who was reluctant to enter the fray initially, later agreed to contest following pressure from Chief Minister Siddaramaiah. Congress workers appear confident and are focussing on welfare schemes like the Anna Bhagya in the rural areas.

Their sole aim is to recapture Dharwad that has been the BJP bastion since 1996.

Caste factor

Though Dharwad is a Lingayat-dominated constituency, the caste factor did not play a major role in the parliamentary elections in previous years. So far, only one each of Lingayat (Vijay Sankeshwar) and Kuruba (D.K. Naikar) and three Brahmins (D.P. Karmarkar, Sarojini Mashishi, Pralhad Joshi) have been elected.

But political analysts feel that this time the caste factor could play a role. The Congress has chalked out plans to consolidate the Kuruba, minority and traditional votes, and to split the Lingayat votes.

It was with this intension that Mr. Kulkarni, a Panchamasali Lingayat has been fielded. Mr. Kulkarni, who is sitting MLA from Dharwad Assembly segment has a good support base in his community and in rural areas.

This time, it looks as if there is a 50-50 winning chance for Mr. Joshi and Mr. Kulkarni. Mr. Joshi can win if he retains the traditional BJP vote bank and Mr. Kulkarni will make it through if the caste factor makes an impact. This battle is making the people wait anxiously for the outcome on May 16.

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