With the Karnataka Assembly elections 2023 just days away, South First is bringing you ground reports from key constituencies. This series brings you voices from the ground, the mood of the voters, and issues that matter — as well as those that don’t — as people make up their minds on who they will elect in the upcoming Assembly elections.
It was the last day for withdrawal of nominations for the 2023 Assembly elections in Karnataka and the scenes outside Sharada Mohan Shetty’s house “Sahana” in Nellikeri at Kumta on the morning of Monday, 24 April, were a bit unusual.
A lot of people were waiting to meet Sharada outside her house, and it looked like she had summoned them — a meeting with her loyal supporters.
They wanted to know what their leader had decided and what the next course of action would be.
A rebel, but what cause?
The former MLA recently turned rebel and decided to contest the 10 May Karnataka elections as an independent candidate from the Kumta-Honnavar constituency after being denied a ticket by the Congress.
In the run-up to the elections, she said she was confident of sweeping the seat in Kumta with a Congress ticket. However, the Congress high command had other plans.
The party instead offered the Kumta-Honnavar ticket to Nivedith Alva, son of former Rajya Sabha member Margaret Alva, who went on to become the Governor of several states.
Rumours were rife, even on Sunday, that Sharada would withdraw her nomination either with “some influence” or “otherwise”, or she would eat into the votes that are meant for Nivedith Alva.
Without Sharada’s support, it would be near-impossible for the fielded Congress candidate to bag a good number of votes to outshine his BJP and JD(S) rivals Dinakar Keshav Shetty and Suraj Naik Soni, respectively
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Resigning to her fate this time
On Monday afternoon, a few seemingly miffed supporters of Sharada were walking out of her house when South First caught up with them.
They were loyal Congress workers who had been summoned to Sharada’s house in the morning, so that she could clear the air regarding her stand in the 2023 May elections.
One of her supporters, Govinda Naik, told South First, “Sharada Mohan Shetty ma’am is a former MLA. She was indeed ready to contest the election. However, the Congress did not give her a ticket and she decided to contest as an independent candidate. But now she has decided not to contest elections this time. She will withdraw her nomination today.”
He added, “She also conveyed to us (party workers) that we could either remain associated with the Congress or we could support, independently, whom we want to support in the upcoming elections. We are all independent now and we will have to decide among ourselves whom we should support.”
He also said: “If she had contested the elections, she would have easily got 30,000-40,000 votes. The Congress has done an injustice to her by not giving her a ticket. We are local party workers and we cannot see a reason why the Congress high command decided this.”
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‘BJP likely to win’
A department store businessman, Gajanand (46) told South First that Congress candidate Sharada won the 2013 elections and after her term, it was BJP candidate Dinakar Keshav Shetty — the incumbent MLA — who won the elections.
“He has managed to again get a BJP ticket and is contesting. Both Sharada and her late husband, who was a three-time MLA, have been Congress loyalists and worked very well. However, we don’t know what went wrong and why Sharada was denied a Congress ticket. She is a deserving candidate when compared to Nivedith Alva. Alva is from Sirsi, though he is in touch with Kumta,” Gajanand said.
“JD(S) candidate Suraj Naik Soni is a young chap who began his campaign three-four months ago as he had been tipped off to be prepared. It will be a neck-and-neck fight between the three parties,” he added.
“Though anti-incumbency has set in, there are chances for the BJP to win in Kumta-Honnavar. But whoever wins, will win only by a slight margin.”
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Issues plaguing Kumta-Honnavar constituency
Villagers in Kumta and Honnavar told South First that though several civic issues, such as bad roads and no water supply in the interior villages, plagued the constituency, the only issues that came to the fore were communal ones.
This, they said, was in fact the case all along the coastal belt of Kumta, Honnavar, Kundapura, Bhatkal, Udupi, and Mangaluru, up till Ullal.
“Thank god we have a good groundwater table. The interior villages have no water supply at all,” said Gajanand.
He added, “There are several tribes in the forest areas of this constituency, such as Gouds and Goudthis. Many of the tribes from the fisherfolk are ignored by local representatives. But they have been recognised by the BJP government that is attempting to make sure that they avail all governmental schemes.”
A tailor from Kumta, Sudhir Bhandari (52), told South First that he would blindly cast his vote for the BJP candidate, whoever Prime Minister Narendra Modi fields.
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“The BJP will make it, as everyone will vote for Modi. For us, the country is more important than anything else. Local representatives have made roads that are visible, but no other developments. I strongly think that if Modi is there, we are there, or else we would cease to exist,” said Bhandari.
Kumta has been ignored repeatedly by elective representatives, said the local residents.
“The nearby Honnavar town has got a Road Transport Office (RTO), but Kumta doesn’t have anything. There are no good hospitals at all in Uttara Kannada,” said Raju, a local resident.
Another resident, Pandurang Naik, told South First, “I see the candidate and a little bit of their party affiliations. We still know that there have not been any development schemes or programmes brought in by any local representatives till now.”
He added, “I am not sure by what margin Suraj Naik Soni will win, but I am confident that he will be the winning candidate this time.”
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A second-time voter, Ganapathi Shetty, told South First, “There will certainly be a neck-and-neck fight between the JD(S) and the BJP. Since the Congress has been ruled out as Sharada has not been granted a ticket, it will be a close fight between the BJP and the JD(S).”
A frustrated Gandhian, Shailesh Naik, mistakenly uttered “yemmegalu” (buffaloes) instead of “MLA-galu” (MLAs) when he was explaining what democracy had come to be.
Naik stated that Gandhi had made a mistake by winning independence for India.
“One has to have a family to know how it feels to live in today’s world. He must also be educated and qualified. Be it ‘yemmes’ (buffaloes), they come to people to ask for votes at the time of elections and then they are gone. They only make fortunes for themselves,” Shailesh said.
He added, “They engage in horse trading and do whatever they should not — all in the name of democracy. The number of ‘impure’ voters has increased nowadays — those who vote for the corrupt. Votes of the uneducated classes are being misused. Votes for cash, votes for liquor. Such people rule our state.”
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The likely vote share
According to the 2011 census, the population of Kumta was around 1.54 lakh, of whom approximately 77,700 were male and 76,600 were females.
However, Kumta’s population crossed 2.2 lakh in 2023, and the estimated registered number about 2 lakh, sources told South First.
The dominant castes in the Kumta constituency are the Goudas, Naiks, and Brahmins (including Gaud Saraswat Brahmins and other sub-castes).
According to the 2011 census, the total population of Kumta is 1.54 lakh, of whom 1.4 lakh are Hindus, 10,845 are Muslims, 3,703 Christians, and 143 Jains and others.
“Going by caste equations, it is likely that the BJP’s Dinakar Shetty is going to win in Kumta as the votes will swing towards the anti-Muslim stance taken by the BJP. However, the race will be neck-and-neck as the Naiks’ votes would drift towards Suraj Naik Soni, who will also likely get the share of votes belonging to Sharada Shetty, who has withdrawn her nomination,” said a manager at a hotel, who wished to remain anonymous.
He added, “Suraj Naik shot to fame during the Paresh Mehta murder case, which gave the BJP the edge to win the 2018 elections. He is still a popular leader here in Kumta.”
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In 2018, Dinakar Shetty of the BJP won the Kumta elections by defeating Sharada Mohan Shetty of the Congress by a margin of 32,750 votes.
The Kumta Assembly constituency falls under the Uttara Kannada Lok Sabha constituency.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, BJP candidate Anantkumar Hegde won from the Uttara Kannada Lok Sabha seat by a margin of 4,79,649 votes, defeating Anand Asnotikar of the JD(S).