Badami, Karnataka: Congress leader Siddaramaiah travelled the length and breadth of Karnataka campaigning to return his government to power. But he almost failed to do what everybody expected of him: convince the voters of the two constituencies he contested, Chamundeshwari and Badami, to vote for him. As a result, Siddaramaiah won Badami by a mere 1,696 votes and lost Chamundeshwari by a stunning margin of 36,042 to his one-time friend GT Deve Gowda of the JD(S).
For starters, Siddaramaiah sacrificed his seat Varuna for his son Dr Yathindra, who beat his closest rival Thotadappa Basavaraju from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by over 45,000 votes. But, right from the start, Siddaramaiah was not confident of winning Chamundeshwari.
File image of former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah. PTI
It was an open secret that the BJP fielded a weak candidate SR Gopal Rao so that GT Deve Gowda's support in the constituency wouldn't get divided. The plan worked. "Siddaramaiah lost because of his attitude," GT Gowda told media persons after winning the seat. "He attacked everyone with his loose talk."
Vijayendra Gowda, a 25-year-old voter said that Siddaramaiah had deserted them while he was chief minister, but GT Gowda always extended a helping hand. "We know there are some corruption charges against him. But, he works for us, he is available," Vijayendra said when asked about the housing board scam where GT Gowda's name surfaced.
'Didn't care for constituency'
In Chamundeshwari, JD (S) could register an easy win as it managed to consolidate the Vokkaliga and Lingayat-Veerashaiva votes. The Congress was dependent on the other backward classes (OBCs) and the Dalits. Interestingly, in a bid to win, local Congress leaders also tried to mobilise support from Lambanis, Ganigas and other small groups. The caste equation in this constituency was not in Siddaramaiah's favour: he swore by AHINDA (Alpasankhyataru or minorities, Hindulidavaru or backward classes, and Dalitaru or Dalits) politics.
"Siddaramaiah had clearly taken the voters for granted," says PS Jayaramu, retired professor of political science, Bangalore University. "He started his career here. But, he didn't take care of the constituency properly. Even as a chief minister he never cared to know whether they were benefited or not. He didn't even campaign much, thinking that people will vote. But, the main factor is that he didn't treat his old friends from JD (S) well. He resented the fact that GT Gowda, whom he had mentored, could stand against him."
"For some, the fact that he was contesting from Badami, made them vote for other candidates. It worked against him here," he added.
In Badami, Siddaramaiah received 67,599 votes and BJP's heavyweight leader B Sriramulu received 65,903 votes. Both the contenders were 'outsiders' for Badami's residents. If the 2007 votes cast for 'none of the above' (NOTA) had been added to Sriramulu's tally, he could have won against the Congress leader in this neck-and-neck fight.
"The JD (S) candidate got 24,484 votes. Those were from our share," local BJP leaders in Bagalkot lament. Badami is one of the seven constituencies in Bagalkot. "He (JD (S) candidate) didn't even imagine getting these many votes," the local leaders said.
Siddaramaiah chose Badami as his insurance policy, fearing defeat in Chamundeshwari. It was indeed a safe seat because there were around 45,000 Kurubas (Siddaramaiah's community) among the 2,12,187 voters in the constituency. The minority and scheduled caste (SC) votes also went to the Congress' kitty.
"When the chief minister came here to file his nomination, we thought he would win by a huge margin," said Shankar, the Badami-based reporter for Kannada Prabha newspaper. "But everything changed in the last few days. BJP stepped up their campaign and on the last day, Amit Shah had a rally here which pulled many votes towards them."
Although Narendra Modi did not campaign in the constituency, the news of the prime minister's rallies across the state motivated the youth in the constituency to vote for the saffron party en masse. "The Muslim votes, SC votes and Kurubas saved the chief minister here. Otherwise, he would have faced a shameful defeat," Shankar added.
In case BJP would have fielded a local candidate instead of an outsider, the picture would have been different, suggest political analysts.
Retirement not on cards?
"Siddaramaiah himself said it is his last election," political analyst A Jayaram said laughing. "But, no politician retires. He is a professional. He will have other plans. In future, he might stake his claim to become the chief minister again, you never know what would transpire from the deals with JD (S)."
While campaigning in Chamundeshwari, Siddaramaiah appealed to voters saying that this was his last election. Political pundits believe that Siddaramaiah, despite being voted out of office, will find a way to remain in active politics. "It was Ramakrishna Hegde who mentored Siddaramaiah. Hedge had won a second consecutive term in the state last in 1985. After that, no ruling party has been able to retain the power. As a chief minister Siddaramaiah was good, but retaining power was difficult. He (Siddaramaiah) had enjoyed a good innings and no charges of corruption were levelled against him," Jayaram said.
Speaking on Siddaramaiah's priorities, Jayaram said, "He is widely seen as (positioned) against upper-caste Hindus. He only backs the lower castes. This worked against him. But, his political innings is far from over."
Analysts suggest that the Congress party high command might even consider Siddaramaiah for some role at the national level, though the fact that he isn't fluent in Hindi might be a hurdle. He might be considered arrogant, but a politician with Siddaramaiah's experience and skills will remain a huge asset to the Congress party in the years ahead.
The author is a Bijapur-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.