On Monday, 22 May, when the 224 newly-elected MLAs of the Karnataka take oath as members of the Legislative Assembly, among them will be a few debutante legislators who have left a special mark this election season.
A man who has a fan base for his peculiar way of speaking, a woman who has stayed in every village in her constituency for years to win over voters, the first Schedule Caste (SC) woman MLA from her seat, a techie-turned-farmer attempting to keep his father’s legacy alive — these are some of the first-time MLAs voters have chosen in the Karnataka Assembly elections 2023.
Whether it is being a millionaire and yet walking barefoot or pulling off surprise wins against strongmen, these debutante MLAs have shot into limelight.
While most in the list hail from non-political backgrounds, there are at least two who relied on their existing political capital to bring home a victory — like Melukote MLA Darshan Puttannaiah, and Nanjangud MLA Darshan Dhruvanarayan.
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Karemma G Nayak, Devadurga (ST)
If there is one spot for a stellar success story this election, it should perhaps belong to JD(S) Devadurga MLA Karemma G Nayak. The 51-year-old is one among the 12 women MLAs who have been elected in the recently-concluded Karnataka Assembly elections.
Karemma hails from an agriculture family and is known for her simplicity in the constituency. In a Scheduled Tribe (ST) reserved constituency, Karemma is a popular face and her outreach efforts pre-date her association with the JD(S).
With no prior political backing, Karemma began her career as a gram panchayat member in the early 2000s and was the president of the Mushtaru Gram Panchayat in 2005.
After two consecutive failures in the 2013 and 2018 Assembly elections — as an independent candidate — she has finally got the breakthrough in her third election on a JD(S) ticket by registering a thumping victory in the Assembly polls.
She defeated BJP’s former minister and local strongman K Shivanagouda Nayak by a huge margin of 34,256 votes. She garnered 99,544 votes, while the BJP candidate managed to get 65,288 votes, and the Congress lost its deposit managing to get mere 3,909 votes.
Leaders in the JD(S) insist that Karemma’s victory was stellar considering this was a skewed election, with her being no match — in terms of money, resources or power — to her rival candidate.
Karemma told South First: “Despite losing two consecutive Assembly elections, I continued to fight for the people and their issues. I prioritised people’s issues over personal work. I have no political background and people have given mandate to their daughter in Devadurga.”
“During the campaign, the Opposition parties attacked not only me but also my daughter. I didn’t make it a big issue, as people’s grievances are important than my personal problems. I bore all the pain in this election. I will work on resolving major issues and carry out development works in health, education, and the farming sector,” Karemma said, adding that winning in the elections was no cake walk.
Questions were raised about how Keramma, even as an elected Gram Panchayat member, would not sit next to the elected members, who belonged to the upper caste, as an equal.
“I respect everyone irrespective of their caste. I didn’t do it purposely. I wanted to keep the harmony in the village and not be in the bad books of these people,” said Karemma, who has stayed in every gram panchayat over the years in her constituency as part of her voter outreach effort.
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Pradeep Eshwar, Chikaballapur
Pradeep Eshwar of the Congress, just 38, sprung a surprise by defeating the BJP’s incumbent minister Dr K Sudhakar in the 2023 Karnataka Assembly Polls. He is a giant slayer indeed. Popular for his YoutTube videos, his style of speaking, and cinematic way of presentation, Pradeep Eshwar was dismissed as “nonsense value” when he was pitted against Dr Sudhakar.
Pradeep Eshwar didn’t have an easy life in his childhood, as he lost his parents at a very early age. In his school days, he lived in Tumkuru’s Siddaganga Mutt.
He started his own tutoring centre for school children and was employed as a teacher in several schools. He then founded Parishrama Academy, which provides coaching for the NEET entrance exam, in Chikaballapur.
He is also a motivational speaker and social media sensation in the region. The grand old party stunned everyone by fielding him against the BJP’s influential and incumbent minister Dr Sudhakar.
Eshwar stunned everyone by defeating Dr Sudhakar by a margin of 10,642 votes. He grossed 86,224 votes, the BJP got 75,582 votes and the JD(S) managed to get only 19,815 votes.
MLA Pradeep Eshwar told South First: “I have defeated one of the most corrupt BJP leaders in the polls. It was a very tough fight and not a cake walk. I thank the Congress and all the leaders that put faith in me and gave me an opportunity.”
“I want to bring about an education and health revolution, which are my primary focus areas. I will focus on other areas too,” added Eshwar.
Even before taking oath as a legislator, he has begun door-to-door visits, where he will hear grievances, in his segment.
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Iqbal Hussain, Ramanagara
The Congress party’s Iqbal Hussain succeeded in breaching the forte of JD(S)-dominated Ramanagara Assembly segment — which it has defended for the past 20 years — by defeating Nikhil Kumaraswamy, film star and son of party chief HD Kumaraswamy, in the Assembly polls.
The seat was being represented by Kumaraswamy and his family. Anita Kumaraswamy, the party chief’s wife, was the incumbent MLA from the seat
Hussain defeated Nikhil by a margin of 10,715 votes. The Congress got 87,690 votes, the JD(S) bagged 76,975 votes, and the BJP got only 12,912 votes.
Hussain succeeded in defeating the JD(S), which is the nearest rival for the Congress in Ramanagara, in his second attempt. In the 2018 Assembly polls, despite garnering over 40 percent votes, Hussain had lost by a margin of 22,636 votes.
Hussain told South First: “With the support of KPCC chief DK Shivakumar and his brother DK Suresh, who are my political gurus, I had campaigned in every gram panchayat in my constituency. I received overwhelming support from the people.”
“I highlighted the failures of the incumbent BJP government and the JD(S), which has represented the segment for the last four terms, during my campaign. The people have given me a mandate. I will work towards developing the segment,” added Hussain.
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Darshan Puttannaiah, Melukote
From successful tech entrepreneur to making a breakthrough in the Karnataka Assembly polls, Sarvodaya Karnataka Party’s (SKP) Darshan Puttannaiah, son of the late farmer leader and MLA KS Puttanaiah, has won from Melukote Assembly seat in the recently concluded polls.
Darshan defeated JD(S) candidate CS Puttaraju by a margin of 10,862 votes. He garnered 91,151 votes, the JD(S) bagged 80,289 votes, and the BJP got a mere 6,470 votes.
It may also be noted that the Congress didn’t field a candidate here, instead it extended support to Darshan Puttannaiah in the polls.
Darshan was residing in Denver City in the US for the last 20 years. The untimely demise of his father Puttannaiah, forced him to jump into politics. He had lost in the Assembly by-polls from the same seat in 2018.
In 2012, he sold his tech companies and returned to Melukote to actively participate in politics.
Darshan told South First: “People have trusted and given me an opportunity. People also considered the works of my father and have supported me in this election.”
“It was also possible because of the unconditional support extended by other political parties, including the Congress. The Congress played a key role in my victory. I am blessed to represent Melukote in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly,” an elated Darshan said, adding that will continue his father’s legacy by focusing on agrarian issues.
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Bhagirathi Murulya, Sullia (SC)
In what can only be a matter of pride for the Dalit community, the BJP’s Bhagirathi Murulya became the first Dalit woman to be elected from coastal Karnataka to the Legislative Assembly.
Bhagirathi, in her maiden election, registered a thumping victory against Congress candidate G Krishnappa Ramakunja from Sullia Assembly seat, which is reserved for SCs.
She won by a huge margin of 30,874 votes. She garnered 93,911 votes, while Krishnappa got 63,037 votes, and the JD(S) lost its deposit by getting a mere 1,850 votes.
She is one among the 72 news faces that the BJP fielded in the Assembly elections. The BJP high command denied a ticket to the incumbent minister S Angara, who had represented the segment for six consecutive terms, and fielded Bhagirathi.
She doesn’t even own a car and campaigned in a rented vehicle throughout the elections. It may also be noted that she doesn’t have any kind of political background and was a grassroots party worker.
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Gururaj Shetty Gantihole, Byndoor
BJP’s Gururaj Shetty Gantihole, although a millionaire, is known for his simplicity — and for walking barefoot for the last two decades in Byndoor.
Gururaj is one among the 72 new faces that the BJP fielded in the 2023 Karnataka Assembly polls. He succeeded in winning the hearts of the voters of Byndoor. Deeply rooted in the Sangh’s philosophy and a Hindutva hardliner, Gantihole was picked by the BJP as part of its “cadre-first” attempt in safe seats.
He defeated his nearest rival candidate, K Gopal Poojary of the Congress, by a margin of 16,153 votes. The BJP got 98,628 votes, the Congress won 82,475 votes, and the JD(S) lost its deposit by polling a mere 841 votes.
In his election affidavit, Gururaj has declared assets worth ₹7.28 crore. He is into the cashew business in Kumta.
The BJP had denied ticket to the incumbent MLA BM Sukumar Shetty and instead chose Gururaj, who has worked extensively with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s ideological parent, for the past many years.
When asked why he walks barefoot, he told reporters: “It is to keep myself conscious and understand the difficulties being faced by the common people. This practice always reminds me of my duties to address the issues of the people.”
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Darshan Dhruvanarayan, Nanjangud
Darshan Dhruvanarayan had no plans of joining politics in the near future. However, the untimely demise of his father and KPCC working president Dhruvanarayan forced him to take the plunge.
In his maiden election, Darshan, an advocate by profession, registered a stellar victory by defeating the BJP’s incumbent MLA B Harshavardhan by a huge margin of 47,607 votes in the 2023 Karnataka Assembly polls.
Darshan garnered 1,09,125 votes and Harshavardhan got 61,518 votes. Meanwhile, the JD(S) did not field any candidate from this segment in the polls.
In the span of one month this year, he lost both his parents. His father died due to cardiac arrest on 11 March, and his mother, who was ailing from cancer, passed away on 7 April.
Darshan finished his LLB from one of the top universities in London. He is practicing as a lawyer in Bengaluru. After the supporters of Dhruvanarayan urged the Congress to field his son, the grand old party gave the tickets to Darshan.
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Latha Mallikarjun, Harapanahalli
Latha Mallikarjun, who is a daughter of late former deputy chief minister MP Prakash, won as an independent candidate from Harapanahalli in 2023 Karnataka Assembly polls.
Latha was a ticket aspirant from the Congress. After the party denied her a ticket, she contested as an independent candidate and won against the BJP’s former minister Karunakara Reddy with a margin of 13,845 votes.
In her very first Assembly elections, she registered a thumping victory against the BJP and the Congress. She garnered 70,194 votes, Karunakar got 56,349 votes and the Congress got 44,988 votes.
After emerging victorious, Latha has announced her support for the Congress. In the 2013 Assembly polls, her brother MP Ravindra had won from the same seat, but lost in the 2018 polls. He passed away recently.
Local political commentators claim that it was her simplicity, rapport with the people, and sympathy for their causes that were the major factors that worked in her favour in winning the Harapanahalli Assembly seat.