HASSAN: Former prime minister HD Deve Gowda may have gifted the JD(S) ticket to his grandson Prajwal Revanna, but the journey ahead seems to be arduous for the Gowda family. People here are proud of their son-of-the-soil, but winds of change seem to be slowly blowing into the Vokkaliga heartland of Hassan.
The south-western district, which is home to erstwhile Hoysala capital Halebidu near Belur and the Jain pilgrimage centre Shravanabelagola, has been a JD(S) bastion, since Gowda came to the centre stage of state politics. The party won six out of seven assembly segments in the district in last year’s assembly elections, while the BJP managed to make inroads by winning the Hassan seat.
In other parts of the state, farmers in the predominately agrarian district, face several problems as the groundwater table is depleting in some parts, while lakes have dried up in many areas. Coconut farms are hit by diseases and elephant menace is making life miserable in some parts of the districts, which fall under the fragile Malnad ecosystem.
Though the district has well connected road networks, it lacks industrial development and employment opportunities for youngsters, forcing them to migrate for work to Bengaluru, Mangaluru, Mysuru and other cities. Land was acquired from farmers for an airport project that was first conceived in 1967 and shelved later. It was revived again when Gowda was the PM in 1996. However, two decades later, the airport is yet to take-off.
Gowda is a big force in the district, but reducing margins and slight disenchantment among youngsters about the family politics will be a cause of concern. Prajwal hopes to gain from goodwill for his grandfather and father and PWD Minister H D Revanna’s hold over the party in the district. While his rival Manju - former Congress minister who joined BJP after LS polls were declared - will be banking on the Modi wave and support from local Congress workers and voters.
“I’ll get 70 per cent of Congress votes,” Manju said confidently. His logic: Congress and JD(S) are traditional rivals, and in a straight contest against the JD(S) most Congressmen will back him. A lot, however, depends on his ability to split dominant Vokkaliga community votes. It is not an easy task as the community backs Gowda’s party not just in Hassan, but also in most parts in Old Mysuru region. The BJP on the other hand is confident of getting support from Lingayats. In 2014, when Manju contested as Congress candidate against Gowda, he had lost the election by a little over 1 lakh votes, while in 2009 LS polls, Gowda’s victory margin was over 3.5 lakh.
According to analysts, a large percentage of Vokkaligas in the district back the JD(S), which also enjoys complete support from minorities. Vokkaligas constitute around 5 lakh voters, while the district has around 2.5 lakh Lingayats. Hassan is a politically hyperactive district in which just the mention of election will spark a spirited debate among farmers, students and even autorickshaw drivers.
“Deve Gowda is for our district and the state and Modi for the country,” says Tirumale Gowda of Channarayapatna taluk. “Even UKG students in the district talk about the firm stand taken by the Modi government after the terror attack on our CRPF personnel,” he added. According to him, it is going to be a tight contest with slight edge to the JD(S). “I have always voted for the JD(S) and continue to be the party supporter. However, this is a national election and we need to give Modi another chance so that the country is safe,” Javare Gowda said.
Win they might, but this time it’s a tough task. With Gowda fighting his own battle in Tumkur and H D Kumaraswamy fighting to ensure his son Nikhil Kumar’s successful debut into electoral politics, Revanna and his son may be left to fight their own battle. For their advantage, the party has six out of eight MLAs in the LS constituency. Two are from the BJP.