Karnataka polls: Jarkiholi brothers lead BJP and Congress charge in Belagavi
In Belagavi, it is a direct political tussle between two brothers — Satish Jarkiholi and Ramesh Jarkiholi — and their influence in their respective parties
Belagavi: In Karnataka’s Belagavi, which has the second highest number of assembly constituencies in the state after Bengaluru, a group of sugar barons control the political pulse of the district and prominent among them are the Jarkiholis.
The northern district, also hailed as the sugar bowl of Karnataka, sends 18 legislators to the 224-member legislative assembly, polling for which will be held on May 10.
Besides the Jarkiholis, other sugar barons like the Kattis, Kores and Patils also wield considerable political power in the district, using their sugar factories. In Belagavi, it is a direct political tussle between two brothers — Satish and Ramesh Jarkiholi — and their influence in their respective parties. Ramesh is contesting from Gokak seat and Satish from Yemkarnamadi.
Considered an efficient strategist who had delivered victory for Siddaramaiah in Badami in the 2018 elections, Satish Jarkiholi is heading the Congress’s poll campaign in Belagavi. His elder brother Ramesh, who orchestrated the defection of more than a dozen legislators resulting in the collapse of the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress coalition regime in 2019, has assumed charge of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s campaign in the district.
Even though the elections are just around the corner, the Congress office in Belagavi wore a deserted look on Sunday. Inside the office, Satish Jarkiholi was busy holding meetings with a handful of local Congress leaders. When asked about the eerie silence in the party office, he said that is how it should be.
“The victory in an election is eventually by the candidates you field, and the effectiveness of the campaign. We (district leadership) get help from visits by senior leaders or their directions,” said Satish. “We have good candidates this time and they have clear instructions. The work is happening on the ground, where it matters.”
When quizzed about how his brother could influence the elections, he said that even the tallest leaders of the BJP are facing anti-incumbency, “and so no amount of influence can help them”. He added: “The fact that they are bringing in top leaders like (BJP national president) JP Nadda and others here, shows that their local leadership is panicking. We will win up to 12-13 out of the 18 seats here.”
Though he was quick to admit that a senior leader like Laxman Savadi joining the Congress recently from the BJP could help his party, he added that it will boil down to on-ground campaigning, and ensuring the wave against incumbency is reinforced.
Ramesh said he has been asked by the BJP to not issue any political statements until the elections are over. “I will not be issuing any media statements until the counting is over. There are strict instructions from the high command that the statements could be used against the party. I will talk after the elections are over,” Ramesh said.
In March 2021, Gokak MLA Ramesh Jarkiholi had resigned as a minister over an alleged sex-for-job scandal, which gave the Opposition ammunition to attack the BJP. Ahead of the elections, a police complaint has been lodged against the elder Jarkiholi brother over his remarks on January 22, when he allegedly announced in Belagavi that the BJP would pay ₹6,000 to every voter.
However, the BJP has reposed confidence in the oldest Jarhikholi. The party high command has approved the candidature of sitting legislators Mahesh Kumathalli (Athani), Shrimanth Patil (Kagwad), Nagesh Mannolkar (Belagavi Rural), Chikka Revanna (Ramdurg), Vittal Halagekar (Khanapur) and Jagadish Gudagunti (Jamkhandi), all of whom were endorsed by Ramesh Jarkiholi. The decision cost the BJP a senior Lingayat leader in Laxman Savadi, but the party has decided to bet on Ramesh.
“His campaign is aggressive. He camps in constituencies for days where his supporters visit homes in the village and ‘generous help’ is provided,” said a local seer, requesting anonymity. “In some cases, threats, particularly about the debt owed to him, are used to get votes. In some constituencies, even though a different candidate has been fielded, he has announced that they will be voting for him.”
The history of two coups
Despite being unpredictable, Ramesh Jarkiholi remains a powerful political force. Ramesh, who took a political defeat — orchestrated by KPCC president DK Shivakumar — to the heart, ensured the collapse of the Congress-led coalition government.
Following the 2018 assembly elections, both brothers were appointed as ministers in the JD(S)-Congress government led by HD Kumaraswamy. However, Laxmi Hebbalkar, Congress MLA from Belgaum (Rural), who had previously been a confidant of Ramesh, fell out with him and shifted her loyalty to Shivakumar. With the help of Shivakumar, she managed to get her candidates elected as directors of the Primary Land Development (PLD) Bank in Belagavi, replacing the loyalists of the Jarkiholi family. As Congress leaders supported Laxmi, Ramesh plotted his revenge and played a key role in the defection of about 14 Congress and JD(S) MLAs, including himself, to the BJP. He was duly rewarded by the party and made minister for medium and major irrigation, a plum portfolio, in 2019.
However, his ministerial stint was short-lived after a purported video of him with a young woman went viral in March 2021. The woman has claimed that Ramesh Jarkiholi took advantage of her by promising a government job. She recorded her statement before a magistrate and sought the high court’s intervention to prevent the state government from exonerating the BJP MLA of any wrongdoing.
Ramesh, however, blamed Shivakumar for conspiring against him and forcing him to resign as a minister. Despite his attempts to regain his position, he failed to do so, even after Basavaraj Bommai replaced BS Yediyurappa as the chief minister. “While the CD controversy faded away, Ramesh’s feud with Laxmi continued, and he appears to be spending most of his energy on ensuring her defeat in the upcoming assembly elections rather than securing his own victory. His intense hatred for her and DK Shivakunar is evident in his speeches. This election is personal for him,” the seer cited above added.
Jarkiholi brothers, like most prominent political families in the region, draw their power from the sugar factories. The sugar magnates in Belagavi, including the Jarkiholis, Kattis, Kores, and Patils, have established factories in their respective territories, with an unspoken agreement not to interfere in each other’s regions.
The Jarkiholi family dominates the Gokak, Yemkarnamadi, and Arabhavi areas, considered a stronghold of the Dalit community. Hukkeri, Chikkodi, and northern parts of Belagavi are controlled by the family of late Umesh Katti, a former Hukkeri MLA. His son Nikhil Katti and brother Ramesh Katti are contesting the upcoming elections on BJP tickets.
The Katti family and BJP MP Prabhakar Kore, who have been close friends for decades, wield significant influence over the Lingayat vote bank in the area. Savadi, who has recently joined the Congress, has set up sugar factories in the Athani region and holds sway there, local residents said.
The Jarkiholis own four sugar mills in Belagavi – Satish Sugars Ltd, Ghataprabha Co-operative Sugar Mill, Soubhagya Laxmi Sugars and Harsha Sugar Mill. The Kattis own one sugar factory while Prabhakar Kore owns two sugar factories.
Other local politicians, including Congress leaders SR Patil, Shamanur Shivashankarappa, Siddu Nyamagouda, Murgesh Nirani, Laxmi Hebbalkar and Eshwar Khandre also own sugar factories.
Control over sugar mills and local banks that support sugar production means control over the people. “Even though most of the sugar factories run under losses, leaders are setting up factories. Since the farmer is dependent on the factories, which are controlled by a few politicians, they have no other buyers for their produce,” said a local farmer activist, declining to be named.
Despite the upcoming elections are being deemed as the “battle between the brothers”, not all politicians in the Belagavi are ready to buy it. Some of the leaders said though there are political differences, all Jarkiholi brothers are united towards the family’s political goal.
While Ramesh and Bhalachandra represent the BJP in the assembly, Satish is a Congress MLA. Lakhan was elected to the legislative council as an independent recently. In 2013, one more brother, Bhimshi, unsuccessfully contested from the BJP against Ramesh, who was then in the Congress.
“Look at the candidates fielded by both brothers. Even though Satish and Ramesh were in-charge of candidate selections, they fielded weak candidates against each other. They hold meetings and even have plans to have 40-plus seats controlled by the family by the 2028 election, making them kingmakers,” said a local leader familiar with the development, asking not to be identified.
He elaborated that with the example of the alleged sex-for-job scandal. “Jarkiholi brothers except for Ramesh had a meeting in which they decided that brothers in different parties stand unitedly in a critical situation. Look at Satish’s statements, he downplayed the controversy. If Satish was really a political opponent, would he have let go of such an opportunity?” the local leader added.