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The larger ramifications of a district bank’s elections in Karnataka

The elections to the board of directors of the District Central Cooperative (DCC) Bank in Belagavi, scheduled for Friday, have become a prestige battle for politicians, taking their significance beyond the district.

The ruling BJP tried hard to ensure that the elections were unanimous, but polling was necessitated after three of the 16 constituencies had multiple candidates. Security has been heightened in the district.

In the run-up to the elections, the district witnessed some interesting political developments. The BJP embraced Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti leader Aravind Patil after it failed one of its own in Khanapur taluk.

Interestingly, the polls brought arch-rivals — Deputy Chief Minister Laxman Savadi, the Katti brothers, and the Jarkiholi brothers — to the negotiating table. They agreed that Ramesh Katti, brother of the former Minister Umesh Katti, would become the bank’s chairman, while Mr. Savadi would be selected as the bank’s representative to the apex bank. They held a joint press conference to say they had sunk their differences. RSS leader Aravind Rao Deshpande held two rounds of meetings in Athani in which all the aspirants participated.

It also made the Congress, whose fortunes are waning in the district, to field candidates in six constituencies and see them win unopposed in three. The other three — primary agriculture culture cooperative regional constituencies of Khanapur and Ramdurg and the sector constituency of wool — will go to the polls on Friday. KPCC working president Satish Jarkiholi said he was not actively involved in the polls, but it is well known his followers were in the race.

The cooperative body that disburses around ₹51,000 crore loans among five lakh farmers every year is the third largest in the State, but the elections to its board are politically contested though candidates are not nominees of parties. MLAs of various parties routinely fight for the posts of directors in the bank and there is always intense political manoeuvring.

There were strong rumours that Anjali Nimbalkar, Congress MLA from Khanapur, and her opponent, Mr. Patil, had shifted their voters to private resorts outside the State ahead of the polls.

Political observers point to the larger ramifications of the politics around DCC Bank. “RSS backs Mr. Savadi as they want to groom alternative Lingayat leadership in the State. That is the reason why Mr. Umesh Katti also repeatedly announces he is a candidate for chief ministership in the State,” said Ashok Chandaragi, Kannada activist and former secretary of the Janata Party.

He recalled that a fight over postponement of the taluk rural development bank (earlier called PLD bank) elections had escalated into a bitter fight between MLAs Lakshmi Hebbalkar and Ramesh Jarkiholi. Mr. Ramesh Jarkiholi alleged that Congress leader D.K. Shivakumar was interfering in district politics through his follower Ms. Hebbalkar, leading to a larger political stir.

DCC polls have affected State-level politics in the past. Old-timers recall keenly contested battles earlier too. In 2008, Congress leaders Prakash Hukkeri and Prabhakar Kore had an ugly spat over the choice of candidates in the bank and Mr. Hukkeri prevailed. That was said to be one of the reasons behind Mr. Kore joining the BJP.

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