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Old rivalry back to the fore as Kumaraswamy and Shivakumar shadowbox

The outcome of the byelections in Sira and Rajarajeshwarinagar Assembly constituencies may not be crucial to the stability of the BJP government in Karnataka, but it is being keenly watched for the tussle under way for the Vokkaliga leadership.

Both constituencies having sizeable Vokkaliga votes has resulted in a kind of shadowboxing between former Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy and Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president D.K. Shivakumar. Interestingly, neither is taking each other’s name so far in their fight to grab Vokkaliga eyeballs.

Long turf war

The two families, which have had a long history of turf battle, had come together only when the Congress-JD(S) coalition government was formed. But the old rivalry is back now, after the fall of that government. Old-timers will recall the historic 2004 electoral battle in which Tejaswini Gowda (then with the Congress and now with the BJP), backed by Mr. Shivakumar, defeated JD(S) supremo H.D. Deve Gowda.

This byelection is the first electoral outing for Mr. Shivakumar as KPCC chief, and he and his brother and MP D.K Suresh are out to prove their mettle, especially in the R.R. Nagar seat that the Congress held earlier. JD(S) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy, meanwhile, has to at least retain the Sira seat.

R.R. Nagar is also part of the Bengaluru Rural Lok Sabha constituency that Mr. Suresh represents. On Friday, Mr. Shivakumar met Kannada Rakshna Vedike president Narayan Gowda, who has an influence in Vokkaliga pockets.

The precipitating factor for the public exchange between the two leaders, JD(S) sources said, was Mr. Kumaraswamy’s anger at Mr. Shivakumar’s move to poach their local Vokkaliga leaders. In Sira, JD(S) leader Kalkere Ravi, husband of Tumakuru Zilla Panchayat president Latha Ravi, has joined the Congress along with few others. JD(S) leaders claim that Mr. Ravi moved because the Congress, which partners with the JD(S) in the ZP, planned to move a no-confidence motion against his wife. In R.R Nagar, a few JD(S) leaders, including the locally influential leader Bettaswamy, have moved to the Congress.

But, playing down these migrations, Mr. Kumaraswamy said, “I am not rattled by a few people leaving the party. That is common during elections. The party’s base will not be eroded.” He went on to attack Mr. Shivakumar, but without taking his name. The issue also resonated at the JD(S) meeting in R.R. Nagar on Thursday. T.A. Sharavana, JD(S) spokesman, accused Mr. Shivakumar of trying to consolidate the Vokkaligas by playing the caste card.

Covert pitch

The larger issue at play appears to be that the JD(S), which draws its support from among the Vokkaligas in Old Mysore region, is feeling the heat as Mr. Shivakumar is trying to cut into the party by making a covert caste pitch. The Congress camp sees Mr. Shivakumar as a Vokkaliga leader who can threaten the JD(S) base and identity.

However, Mr. Shivakumar has been careful not to be upfront and antagonistic on the matter. So far, he has not attacked JD(S) leaders publicly, and has said that he does not do politics based on caste. “It is natural during elections for parties to attract those who believe in the party ideology and leadership,” he said.

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