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Behind PM’s Karnataka Roadshow, BJP’s Dogged Fight To Keep Belagavi

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BJP is banking on PM Modi’s appeal after BS Yeddyurappa announced electoral retirement

Bengaluru:

The BJP’s Karnataka unit has planned a big show of strength during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Shivamogga and Belagavi today. The Prime Minister’s itinerary comprises the launch of Shivamogga airport and a 10-km roadshow in Belagavi – part of an elaborate outreach plan ahead of the state polls due later this year.

Why Belagavi Is Important

The Belagavi district in Kittur-Karnataka region has 18 Assembly segments and has traditionally been a BJP stronghold. Its significance in the party’s poll plan has been compounded as the BJP appears to be on a backfoot this time due to corruption charges and murmurs of rebellion from some MLAs who had switched to the BJP from Janata Dal (Secular) and the Congress.

After its stronghold Bengaluru, it is Belagavi that can determine poll outcomes for the BJP. The region accounts for the highest population of Lingayats — an influential community that constitutes 17 per cent of Karnataka’s population.

During the 2018 elections, the BJP won 13 out of the 18 seats in Belagavi. In Kittur-Karnataka region, earlier known as Mumbai-Karnataka, the BJP won nearly 30 seats out of the total 50 – nearly 30 per cent of the BJP’s total tally of 104.

What’s Different This Time

The Prime Minister’s roadshow and frequent visits by top BJP leaders, including Home Minister Amit Shah, spark curiosity on why the party has doubled its focus on a region that is a BJP bastion anyway.

A key reason is a leadership vacuum. Former chief minister BS Yediyurappa, the tallest Lingayat leader in the state, recently announced retirement from electoral politics. The BJP also faced setbacks after two key leaders — former minister Umesh Katti and Deputy Speaker of Assembly Anand Mamani died last year. Prior to that, BJP’s Ramesh Jarkiholi was forced to resign as minister amid the 2021 sex for job scandal.

The BJP lost its key Lingayat leader Suresh Angadi, a former Belagavi MP and Union Railway Minister, due to Covid in 2020. Sanjay Patil, chief of BJP’s Belagavi unit, concedes that there is a leadership void. Speaking to String Reveals, Mr Patil said that they are heavily relying on central leaders this time as there is “no local Lingayat face”.

What is the BJP Plan

With a Lingayat heavyweight missing, the BJP has fallen back on its biggest strength — the appeal of Prime Minister Modi. Mr Patil says that despite the void, he was confident that the BJP will win 15 out of 18 seats in the district, bettering last time’s show. The tussle within the Congress, between factions led by Siddaramaiah and D K Shivakumar, will also benefit the BJP, he said.

The central BJP leadership are focusing on Kittur-Karnataka — the districts of Uttara Kannada, Belagavi, Dharwad, Vijayapura, Bagalkote, Gadag and Haveri — south Karnataka and Hyderabad Karnataka regions as it goes all out in its attempt to return to power in its southern stronghold.

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