Karnataka Legislative Assembly Elections-2018: Belagavi North
by Vijaykumar Patil
Throwing all issues of development and progress to the wind, the electioneering in the prestigious Belagavi North assembly constituency is clearly dividing the native community on religious grounds with the second-time sitting MLA and senior Congress leader Feroz N. Sait leaving no stone unturned to register a hat-trick in the May 12 elections to the Karnataka State Legislative Assembly and politically ambitious Anil Benke of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) making the going very tough for the former.
As many as 15 candidates are contesting from this constituency, which is dominated a highly substantial population of Muslim minorities, Lingayats, dalits and Marathi linguistic communities. The offices of the deputy commissioner, regional commissioner, police commissionerate and district police headquarters, part of defence area, and almost all government offices are situated in this constituency.
Over 50 Jamats representing Muslim community in Belagavi city, besides community-members representing in Belagavi City Corporation and Belagavi City Cantonment Board came out openly in support of Mr.Sait and gave a clarion call to the community voters to exercise their right to franchise in favour of Mr.Sait to keep the BJP at bay. They made it explicitly clear that a division in Muslim vote would only help BJP, thanks to presence of seven other candidates in the electoral fray in this constituency. Their call follows a visible split in the community’s support with a group of senior and youth Congress leaders of the party led by C.K.S. Nazir under the banner of ‘Belagavi Muslim Forum’ launching a campaign against Mr.Sait’s candidature in vain.
Mr.Nazir said the community was angry due to certain communal clashes witnessed in the constituency following which nearly criminal cases were registered against nearly 1,800 Muslim youth. Development works were taken up selectively in the localities where his house and properties are situated. Also, one of the strong reasons behind the second line party leaders was due to transforming the Belagavi City Congress Committee into a family enterprise with Mr.Sait promoting his family members. His younger brother Asif (Raju) N. Sait is heading the unit and his young son Faizan heading the Belagavi City Youth Congress Committee. Virtually, the city Congress unit has become ‘Sait Family Private Limited’ at the cost of several senior and loyal workers.
Mr.Sait was appointed as Chairman of the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation to pacify him after denying him a berth in the Siddaramaiah ministry. As he allegedly made his presence felt and contribute to the development of tourism of the State or his home district, the government appointed him as Chairman of the Belagavi Urban Development Authority last year, which his confidants say was a long cherished dream.
Mr.Sait’s prospects of striking a hat-trick in this election lie on the support of Muslim community voters and the traditional Congress voters in other communities, even as he is appealing votes on the basis of his contributions for the development, improvement and beautification works taken up during his tenure in the constituency. Any split among his supporters, particularly in the Muslim community votes would only upset his apple cart.
On the other side, both Kannada and Marathi linguist communities are looking up to BJP if not for Mr.Benke, even as senior Maharashtra Ekikaran Samithi (MES) leader and sitting MLA from Belagavi South has thrown his hat in the ring and contesting as Independent candidate from Belagavi North for reasons best known to him. His presence has threatened a split in Marathi votes in the constituency but the voters say they do not want to waste their vote when they are aware of Mr.Patil’s bleak prospects at the hustings. They are also in tune with the disgruntled section of Muslim voters on development/improvements in selective localities. Roads and lanes continue to be in bad shape, there are no proper drainage lines in several areas and residents continue to face drinking water shortage with the supplies now limited to once in five to six days from once in four days during non-summer days.
Tacit understanding: Meanwhile, presence of JD(S) candidate Ashfaq Ahmed Madaki in the fray, a youth who was earlier in Aam Aadmi Party and poses a secular face allegedly point out at the alleged tacit understanding between the JD(S) and BJP. Every single vote to be polled by Mr.Madaki will be a loss to Mr.Sait. Senior JD(S) leader from the city Faizulla Madiwale could have been truly a threat to Mr.Sait had the party fielded him instead of fielding Mr.Madaki just for the sake of it. However, it remains to be seen how many votes would together by seven Muslim candidates in the fray be deprived to Mr.Sait.
A similar threat is also visible to Mr.Benke from an independent candidate, Balasaheb Kakatkar belonging to one of the MES factions in the city, besides from Sambhaji Patil. His prospects hinges more the anti-Sait and pro-Modi sentiments among the voters of the constituency for the fact that he has very little to claim on making any significant social service other than sponsoring cricket tournaments and cultural/religious events.
Yet, with day of polling approaching fast, the electoral battle is heading to see a close contest between Mr.Sait and Mr.Benke, while rest of the candidates in the fray, many of whom are bound to loose their deposits, are apparently of any consequence and viewed better as spoilsports.