‘Dynasts’ are contesting in over half of Karnataka’s seats, Congress to JDS & BJP

‘Dynasts’ are contesting in over half of Karnataka’s seats, Congress to JDS & BJP

Bengaluru: When senior BJP rebel KS Eshwarappa headed out to file his nomination as an independent candidate for the Shivamogga Lok Sabha seat in Karnataka, he didn’t just make a statement, he orchestrated a spectacle. Surrounded by a crowd of supporters waving saffron flags and with deafening music pumping, his campaign featured not just a photo but a live lookalike of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Later, speaking to reporters Saturday, the former deputy chief minister explained that Modi was still his leader but he was fed with the BJP’s concessions to dynastic politics. “Why are the reins of the party in the hands of appa-maklu (father-children)?” he asked. “What injustice has been meted out, what injustice has been done for Hindutva.” He also asserted that after the elections, there would be a “cleansing” of the BJP.

But the biggest irony—his main reason for contesting the polls as an independent candidate was reportedly because the BJP denied his son, KE Kantesh, a ticket.

Now, Eshwarappa has emerged as the outspoken voice of dissent against his senior party colleague, former CM BS Yediyurappa. He has claimed that Yediyurappa was behind denying the ticket to Kantesh, even while giving the green signal to close aides like Shobha Karandlaje and son BY Raghavendra. To underline his point, Eshwarappa plans to go head-to-head with Raghavendra, the sitting MP and BJP candidate from Shivamogga.

Meanwhile, some 530 km away from the Shivamogga feud, state Congress president DK Shivakumar accompanied Radhakrishna Doddamani to file the nomination for the Gulbarga (Kalaburagi) seat. Doddamani is the son-in-law of All India Congress Committee (AICC) chief Mallikarjuna Kharge. As for Shivakumar, he has someone from his family in the fray too—his brother DK Suresh from the Bangalore Rural seat.

While the trend of parties fielding the relatives of incumbent ministers or leaders is not uncommon across the country, it’s been particularly glaring in Karnataka this election season.

Out of the 28 seats in Karnataka, dynastic heirs have been fielded in at least 16 of them, with the Congress being the most prolific in such candidates, followed by the BJP and its alliance partner Janata Dal-Secular (JDS).

The children of six Congress ministers are in the fray for the 2024 elections— from Bangalore South, Bagalkote, Bidar, Chikkodi, Belagavi, and Chamarajanagar.

And in some constituencies, including Shivamogga, Hassan, Davangere, Chikkodi, and several in Bengaluru, the electoral arena will witness direct battles between two dynastic contenders.

Also Read: Ananthkumar Hegde, Pragya Thakur, Ramesh Bidhuri — why BJP denied tickets to Hindutva firebrands

Family over party?

In Karnataka, the political arena is packed with the offspring, siblings, spouses, and in-laws of various political figures, with the Congress alone fielding at least 15 such candidates. And for some political leaders, family bonds seem to be thicker than party loyalty.

Congress ‘dynasts’ in the fray for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections | Graphic: Prajna Ghosh | ThePrint

One example of this is in the Chikkodi seat, where the influential BJP legislators Ramesh and Balachandra Jarkiholi, known locally as ‘Sahhukars’ are reportedly backing the Congress candidate— their niece Priyanka Jarikholi, the daughter of state cabinet minister Satish Jarkiholi. Four out of five Jarkiholi brothers are active in politics, with an iron grip over the politics and administration of Belagavi district for over two decades now.

“For the Jarkiholis, it always family before party,” said Ashok Chandargi, a Belagavi-based analyst. He added that the brothers have always backed each other first, even if it’s at the expense of opposing candidates within their own party.

Graphic: Prajna Ghosh

For instance, in December 2021, Ramesh and Balachandra of the BJP along with Satish (Congress) were all said to be instrumental in securing victory for their brother Lakhan in the MLC polls. He was contesting against Mahantesh Kavatagimath of the BJP.

Now, Priyanka Jarkiholi faces off against Annasaheb Jolle of the BJP in Chikkodi. Jolle’s wife, Shashikala, is the BJP legislator from Nipani and a former minister in the Basavaraj Bommai cabinet.

In neighbouring Belagavi, women and family welfare minister, Lakshmi Hebbalkar’s son, Mrunal, is the Congress candidate against BJP leader and former CM Jagadish Shettar, whose brother is also an MLC.

Through his son’s marriage, Shettar is also related to the family of Congress veteran Shamanur Shivashankarappa, a heavyweight in Davangere. The Congress has fielded Prabha Mallikarjun, wife of incumbent Karnataka minister SS Mallikarjuna and daughter-in-law of Shivashankarappa, in Davangere.

Seasoned political families have always maintained cordial relations across the aisle and it is not uncommon for them to form marital alliances. For example, JDS leader HD Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil is married to Congress MLA M Krishnappa’s grandniece.

Graphic: Prajna Ghosh

Party workers and others express frustration as they are often left in the lurch, doing the groundwork but overlooked when big election tickets are distributed.

“All these big leaders keep power in their own families. They talk of empowerment and want us to fight their battles but overlook us during elections,” said a member of the politically influential Lingayat organisation All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha, requesting anonymity. He claimed members of all political parties have links with the organisation and that the frustration is not limited to any one party.  “In Davangere, what was the need to give the ticket to Shamanur’s daughter-in-law?” he asked.

Also Read: Political matrimony: A Lingayat grand alliance is the latest in Karnataka’s power matches

Battle of grandchildren

As the second generation of politicians matures, the third generation is coming into its own as well for some clans.

Prajwal Revanna, representing the BJP-JDS alliance, is contesting for the second time in Hassan. His opponent in this election is 31-year-old Shreyas Patel, another political heir. Prajwal is the grandson of former PM and JDS patriarch HD Deve Gowda, while Patel is the grandson of G. Puttaswamy Gowda, a former minister.

This contest is the latest chapter of a multi-generational saga. Back in 1989, Puttaswamy Gowda defeated Deve Gowda in the assembly elections from Holenarsipura and again in the Lok Sabha elections in 1999. He also contested unsuccessfully against Deve Gowda’s older son, HD Revanna, in 1994 and 2004. Following this, Deve Gowda’s daughter-in-law, SG Anupama, also faced defeat in the subsequent two assembly elections.

Now, it’s the battle of the third generation. Currently, Deve Gowda’s family boasts nine immediate members in active politics, albeit not all in the JDS. His son-in-law, CN Manjunath is the BJP candidate from Bangalore South against DK Suresh, the brother of state Congress president DK Shivakumar.

Passing on the political baton, however, takes different forms. On one hand, the political landscape includes instances of father-son duos serving as CMs, like Deve Gowda-Kumaraswamy and Basavaraj Bommai-SR Bommai. On the other hand, parents and children sometimes end up contesting from different parties. For example, A Manju is the JDS MLA from Arkalgud, while his son Manthar Gowda represents the Congress in Madikeri.

According to some political insiders, getting a party ticket for a family member is often linked to the clan’s money power and clout over a region.

With all three parties accusing the other of being ‘money-bags’, candidates have been asked to cover their own expenditures, leaders from all three parties say.

“Within the Congress there were many aspirants but those who came forward were asked to fulfill their own election expenses. That became a criterion,” said another analyst, requesting anonymity.

“Shivakumar has, behind closed doors, told ministers (whose children were given tickets) to win the seats on their own or be dropped from the state cabinet,” one Congress leader claimed.

(Edited by Asavari Singh)


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