Battling anti-incumbency, BJP Karnataka unit president Prahlad Joshi is trying to score a hat-trick from Dharwad, where right wing outfit Sri Ram Sene chief Pramod Muthalik has vowed to prove his electoral worth after his humiliating entry-exit from the saffron party.
banking on the perceived "Modi wave", hoping that it will help him sail through neutralising the negative sentiments against him in a constituency that has remained a BJP bastion since 1996.
Muthalik took an unexpected jump into the fray after BJP admitted him into the party but within hours showed him the door as the move backfired, evoking criticism within the party and from its rivals.
The somersault by BJP has come as an embarrassment to Joshi, who was said to be one of the leaders responsible for Muthalik's botched up re-induction exercise. And, Muthalik has refused to take it lying down and vowed revenge.
Muthalik's outfit was blamed for the attack on several girls in a Mangalore pub in 2009 under its moral policing.
51-year old Joshi is slugging it out to retain hold over traditional voters in the constituency, dominated by Lingayat community.
Joshi faces Congress' Vinay Kulkarni, an MLA who showed initial reluctance to take a plunge but is now pulling all stops to break the BJP hold over the constituency.
Once a Congress fortress, the Dharwad constituency has turned into a BJP bastion after Ramjanmabhoomi movement and Hubli Idgah Maidan stir over hoisting the national flag.
BJP wrested the seat from the Congress in 1996, and since then, won five elections in a row.
Joshi is confident of continuing the winning spree.
His campaign is focused on highlighting the work he has done for the constituency over the years.
Joshi says, "I am sure I will win the Dharwad Lok Sabha seat for the third consecutive term as I have done a lot of developmental work here over the last decade. Also the BJP has regained its strength in Dharwad after KJP's merger with it and Sreeramulu's return to the party."
KJP, led by former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa, has become part of BJP and the party expects the Lingayat community to remain with it.
The constituency has about four lakh Lingayat voters, a fact that has prompted the Congress to plump for a Lingayat candidate, who also enjoys good support base in his community.
Unlike the Congress candidate, Joshi is comfortable on this pitch with a vast network of party workers.
Muthalik is eyeing the hardcore Hindu votes in his own pockets of influence.
Kulkarni was aspiring to become a minister but agreed to contest following pressure from chief minister Siddaramaiah. Congress workers appear confident and are focusing on welfare schemes launched after the party came to power in Karnataka in the May Assembly polls last year.
"I will end the nearly two-decade BJP rule in Dharwad constituency," says Kulkarni.
The JDS with not much influence to boast of has fielded Hanumantappa Bankapur, a former union leader.
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