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How Congress minister Shivakumar plans to hold on to his bastion in Karnataka

Located on the periphery of Bengaluru with ambitions of becoming a satellite town, the Kanakapura constituency has been a “pocket borough” of energy minister and Vokkaliga strongman DK Shivakumar.

india Updated: Apr 27, 2018 08:00 IST
Vikram Gopal
Vikram Gopal
Kanakapura, Hindustan Times
DK Suresh, Congress MP and brother of Kanakapura Congress candidate DK Shivakumar, speaks to the party workers in Kanakapura. (Arijit Sen/HT Photo)

Midway through his speech at a gathering of Youth Congress workers at the party’s office in Kanakapura, about 50 km from the state capital Bengaluru, Madhu, an aide of energy minister DK Shivakumar, said the recent income tax department raids on the minister were part of a conspiracy to tie down the powerful leader.

“The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will learn the hard way that it should not have tried to malign our leader,” he said to his audience of around 300 young people, packed into the terrace of the party office.

He was referring to the raids on Shivakumar’s residence and commercial undertakings in August, days after he was put in charge of the party’s legislators from Gujarat ahead of crucial Rajya Sabha polls in that state.

Located on the periphery of Bengaluru with ambitions of becoming a satellite town, the Kanakapura constituency has been a “pocket borough” of energy minister and Vokkaliga strongman DK Shivakumar.

However, controversy has never been far away from the Congress leader, who is in charge of the party’s campaign committee for the May 12 assembly elections.

A Janata Dal (Secular) leader Rajagopal says the writ of Shivakumar and his brother DK Suresh, who is the local member of Parliament, runs large over the constituency. “Illegal quarrying and encroachment of government land are rampant under the two brothers’ rule,” he said.

According to Rajagopal, those who question this are either booked under false cases or threatened by the brothers’ associates. “I myself have four cases of rioting against me that I came to know of recently after the police had a word with me,” he said.

Some locals had pinned their hopes on a challenge to the status quo by the JD(S), but a local party leader, who did not wish to be named, said the party had decided to go with a person who was not expected to provide a tough fight. Incidentally, Shivakumar had defeated JD(S) stalwart and veteran leader PGR Scindhia by a margin of around 31,000 votes in the 2013 elections. Shivakumar was unavailable for comment.

“The party has chosen Narayan Gowda, who is a farmer leader who has been involved in movements here, but he is not the candidate we were hoping for. I doubt we will be able to put up much of a fight this time,” the JD(S) leader said.

Rumours have been doing the rounds that Shivakumar and HD Kumaraswamy, the chief ministerial candidate of the JD(S), have arrived at a pact to ensure that the two Vokkaliga leaders would not come in each others’ way. The JD(S) leader quoted above said that this did appear true, “I think Shivakumar has promised to help Kumaraswamy in the Channapatna constituency, where the JD(S) leader faces CP Yogeshwar of the BJP,” he said.

JD(S) candidate Gowda, however, said he had a strong reputation in the district and was respected widely.

“I have been in politics for around 40 years. I have previously been a member of cooperative banks in the district and also farmers’ organisations. Considering the fact that Shivakumar hardly ever talks about agriculture, I believe I have a strong chance,” the 69-year-old said.

Gowda said his elections strategy would be to highlight the fact that Shivakumar was a businessman with little interest in the general well-being of the constituency. “He is more interested in his real estate and quarrying business. Look at how his wealth has increased from ₹250 crore in 2013 to ₹840 crore five years later,” Gowda said.

However, the biggest stumbling block for Gowda is a perceptible sense of fear about the Congress leader. Arun Kumar, a petty shop owner in Kanakapura town, refused to comment on the elections. “I do not want to risk losing my business. Although there is little evidence that the minister has himself tried to suppress dissent in the constituency there are enough indications that his followers will not show such restraint,” he said.

Ravi Kumar, an arts graduate-turned RTI activist, has been the lone voice of challenge to Shivakumar and Suresh in the area, and for his troubles, Kumar said, he risks being booked under the Goonda Act. “I have a history sheet in my name in the Satanur police station because I decided to challenge the blatant violations in land acquisition and illegal quarrying,” he said.

Kumar said in 2014, he was allegedly picked up by the police after he filed a complaint in the Karnataka high court against the allegedly wrongful conversion of public land in Satanur taluk. “The modus operandi is simple. A piece of public land, usually land identified for grazing, is donated to the government with the promise of building a housing layout for the poor. Eventually, the land is then sold back to associates of the two leaders,” Kumar said.

On the terrace of the Congress office in Kanakapura, Madhu denied all charges and said Shivakumar was being maligned in a number of ways. “But it is our duty to pick up the phones and call everybody possible, including those who have migrated to Bengaluru, and convince them to vote for our leader,” he said.

First Published: Apr 27, 2018 07:57 IST