It seems to be a neck-and-neck race in Belgaum Parliamentary constituency where two-time MP Suresh Angadi is trying to retain the seat.
Congress candidate Laxmi Hebbalkar, who is also the district president of the party, is trying to snatch the constituency, which was a strong base for her party till Angadi registered his first win two terms back.
Angadi believed it would be a cakewalk for him this time with a newcomer to electoral politics as his rival.
When District Minister Satish Jarkiholi decided to extend support to Laxmi and mobilised the party cadre, the BJP camp started feeling the heat.
Belgaum Parliamentary constituency has eight assembly segments with BJP representing four, including one KJP and Congress three constituencies.
One seat went to MES (Sambhajirao Patil) in the last Assembly elections. Laxmi Hebbalkar, who contested from Belgaum Rural constituency, was defeated by BJP candidate Sanjay Patil. Though Balachandra Jarkiholi, brother of Satish Jarkiholi, is a BJP MLA from Arabhavi constituency, his relations with Suresh Angadi are not cordial. His followers are working for the Congress candidate in Arabhavi and Balchandra has not yet come out to campaign.
Lingayats dominate the constituency which has 15,75,125 voters.
While both Suresh Angadi and Laxmi Hebbalkar are Lingayats, the community leaders have not yet announced their decision.
Lingayats are divided into sub sects — Panchamasalis and Banajigas — throughout the constituency.
While Laxmi belongs to the Panchamasali sect, Suresh Angadi is a Banajiga.
The Panchamasalis numbers are more than the Banajigas. There are around 1.7 lakh Muslim and Christian voters and most of them are expected to vote for Congress which recently ‘netted’ the official JD(S) candidate, a Muslim.
With this the JD(S) factor causing a disadvantage to Congress by splitting the Muslim vote has been prevented. There are around two lakh Maratha voters and this block is considered the deciding factor.
While a group in MES has given freedom to the Marathis to vote for any candidate of their choice, another group has given a call to use ‘NOTA’ to register protest against the delay in solving the vexed border dispute.
While Marathis are considered a BJP vote bank, lack of unity among their leaders may tilt the outcome to any side.
MES MLA Sambhajirao Patil is campaigning for the Congress.
Since 1957, the constituency was ruled by the Congress, but in 1996, the Janata Dal won and then the BJP in 1998.
However, in the 1999 elections, the seat was again bagged by Congress while BJP won in 2004 and 2009.