Triangular showdown in Shivamogga as BJP rebel Eshwarappa joins Lok Sabha fray

It was to be a face-off between the children of two ex-Chief Ministers. Now, Congress and BJP must recalibrate strategies for the key constituency.

Published : Mar 25, 2024 19:18 IST - 3 MINS READ

Incumbent MP B.Y. Raghavendra (right) with his father and former Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally in Shivamogga on March 18.

Incumbent MP B.Y. Raghavendra (right) with his father and former Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally in Shivamogga on March 18. | Photo Credit: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Until 10 days ago, the Shivamogga Lok Sabha constituency was heading towards a star-studded faceoff between the BJP and the Congress. The incumbent MP, B.Y. Raghavendra of the BJP, was set to be challenged by Geetha Shivarajkumar representing the Congress.

Interestingly, both contestants are the children of former Chief Ministers of Karnataka. While Raghavendra’s father, former Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa, and brother B.Y. Vijayendra, who is the BJP’s State president, are helming the party’s fight in the State, Geetha Shivarajkumar also packs a tremendous amount of firepower as her father, former Chief Minister S. Bangarappa, had a large following in Shivamogga. Her brother, Madhu Bangarappa, is a Minister in the incumbent Congress government in Karnataka while her husband, Shivarajkumar, is one of Kannada cinema’s leading actors and the son of Kannada matinee idol Dr Rajkumar.

Also Read | Karnataka: Congress still hunting for a compelling strategy

But a triangular contest is on the cards now. The entry of BJP rebel and senior leader, K.S. Eshwarappa, into this contest has come as a shot in the arm for the Congress, which is hoping that the BJP’s votes will be split between Raghavendra and Eshwarappa, giving Geetha Shivarajkumar the edge.

Battle of the stars

Raghavendra, the elder son of Yediyurappa, has played a limited role in State politics and maintains a low profile. Despite this, he is popular and non-controversial, having won the Shivamogga seat thrice since 2009. The predominance of Lingayats in the constituency and the pervasion of the ideology of Hindutva in this hilly part of Karnataka has also helped Raghavendra retain this seat.

Geetha Shivarajkumar in 2014. The Congress finally chose Geetha Shivarajkumar banking on the legacy of former Chief Minister S. Bangarappa.

Geetha Shivarajkumar in 2014. The Congress finally chose Geetha Shivarajkumar banking on the legacy of former Chief Minister S. Bangarappa. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

Surprisingly, the oldest MLA in the Karnataka Assembly, 93-year-old Shamanur Shivashankarappa who belongs to the Congress, appealed to Shivamogga voters to re-elect Raghavendra in a public meeting in January. Shivashankarappa heads a prominent Lingayat body and has supported Raghavendra because of his caste affiliation.

The Congress had a tough time selecting its candidate but finally chose Geeta Shivarajkumar banking on the legacy of Bangarappa who belonged to the Idiga community, which has substantial numbers in the region. While she comes from a political family, her inexperience might work against her.

Rebel in the mix

In the meantime, former Deputy Chief Minister Eshwarappa, who was ardently lobbying for his son K.E. Kantesh to get the Haveri Lok Sabha ticket, jumped into the fray as an independent when Kantesh was overlooked and former Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai was selected instead as the BJP candidate from Haveri.

BJP rebel and senior leader K.S. Eshwarappa addresses a gathering organised by Shri Ram Sena in Belagavi. The former Deputy Chief Minister is one of the most aggressive ideologues of Hindutva and is infamous for his controversial and provocative statements against religious minorities.

BJP rebel and senior leader K.S. Eshwarappa addresses a gathering organised by Shri Ram Sena in Belagavi. The former Deputy Chief Minister is one of the most aggressive ideologues of Hindutva and is infamous for his controversial and provocative statements against religious minorities. | Photo Credit: ANI

Eshwarappa, a Kuruba, is one of the seniormost leaders of the BJP in Karnataka and, along with Yediyurappa, played a formative role in the growth of the BJP in the State. He is also one of the most aggressive ideologues of Hindutva and is infamous for his controversial and provocative statements against religious minorities. In the past, he was also involved in a long-running feud with Yediyurappa and even formally complained to the Governor in 2021 accusing Yediyurappa (who was then Chief Minister) of running the state in an “authoritarian way”.

Also Read | In Karnataka, BJP’s long game reveals a blend of faith, culture, and social issues

Eshwarappa was so piqued by his son being ignored that he even skipped Narendra Modi’s public event in Shivamogga on March 17 and could not be persuaded even by senior leaders of the party to attend the event. This, even though Modi had acknowledged Eshwarappa as his “puraane saathi” (old companion) in 2014.

In a press conference in Shivamogga, Eshwarappa revealed that Yediyurappa was the source of his frustration. He said, “Yediyurappa has always focussed on his development [within the BJP] and has not allowed others to grow. He was against my growth as a prominent leader within the party. When I started a forum for building an alliance between the backward castes and Dalits, he pressurised Amit Shah and ensured that this effort was stymied. Modi is in my heart but even if he reaches out to me personally, I will not withdraw my candidature but will explain my reasons.”

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