Ground Report: Tough BJP-Congress fight in Hubballi-Dharwad, but Jagadish Shettar may have the last laugh

In the past three Assembly elections, former chief minister Jagadish Shettar won the seat on a BJP ticket. He is now the Congress' candidate.

ByMahesh M Goudar

Published May 07, 2023 | 4:07 PMUpdatedMay 08, 2023 | 9:50 AM

The majestic Rani Chennamma statue in the heart of Hubballi City. (South First)

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.

Dialectical materialism — a concept that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels proposed in order to explain their Communistic thoughts — is not a political thought for Dyamavva Kali. But she has grasped the reality.

The living conditions — or their inadequacy  — are the reality she knows. Her working space at Hubballi-Dharward’s Dollars Colony reflects the contradiction in living conditions in a democracy that promises equality.

The wealthy neighbourhood is so familiar, yet strange, to Kali. The contradiction shows in her person as well as in those living in the colony.

Life has made Kali, a pourakarmika, look older. Her face has become longer with wrinkles starting to mark the hardships she had withstood in the past 38 years.

Front doors seldom open for her, but she is wanted at the rear, where garbage would pile up if not for pourakarmikas like Kali.

She is one among the faceless, nameless, and ignored individuals that make society flaunt a clean, beautiful facade.

Today, she is wanted, as Karnataka inches toward yet another Assembly election. She has a name on the electoral rolls, and people stop to chat with her, requesting her vote.

Kali has a mind of her own, worried about the future.

At the grassroots

Kali was busy segregating waste at Dollars Colony when South First caught up with her. She has been doing the job for the past six years as a contract employee of the Hubballi-Dharwad City Corporation.

Karnataka Elections

Dyamavva Kali. (South First)

She was not bothered about the upcoming polls but raising money for the month was on her mind.

May has just begun, and she has not repaid the loans availed over the past two months.

“I work on a contract basis and the government is yet to make my service permanent. Many of my colleagues are now permanent employees,” she said.

“I am paid only ₹6,000 a month, whereas permanent employees get threefold the amount. The contractor pays wages once in two or three months,” she unburdened herself, relieved to have a listener.

“If I am made a permanent employee, I will be eligible to get many government benefits including a house and more pay,” she said.

The money she seeks may be meagre to most residents of Dollars Colony.

“I am staying with my children and husband in a rented house. I have to give half my salary as rent. My husband is also a daily wager,” she said.

“The hike in grocery prices has doubled monthly expenses. I am also unable to provide proper education to my children,” the mother lamented.

Kali wanted the authorities to ensure timely payments every month. “Otherwise, leading a normal life will be very difficult,” she added.

Kali is not an aberration. The Hubballi-Dharwad City Corporation has hundreds of civic workers on contract.

The state has 42,000 civic workers. Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai regularised the services of 11,133 pourakarmikas in December 2022.

The government promised to regularise the remaining 30,867 civic workers but the promise is yet to be fulfilled.

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The twin city

Hubballi-Dharwad, known as the twin city, is vibrant, offering a blend of natural beauty, bustling commercial centres, opportunities, world-class education, and advanced healthcare facilities.

Hubballi-Dharward at a glance. (South First)

Hubballi-Dharward at a glance. (South First)

The city’s landscape, commercial, education, and healthcare sectors make it a great place to live, work and study.

The twin city is situated on the Deccan Plateau and has the Western Ghats to the west and the plains of the Malaprabha River to its north and east.

The city has a picturesque landscape with rolling hills, green valleys, and verdant forests. The city is also home to several parks and gardens that add to its natural beauty.

The Unkal Lake, one of the major tourist attractions, is also in the city.

Hubballi is a major commercial hub with a thriving economy that is fuelled by agriculture, industries, and services sectors.

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Modern amenities

The city is home to several industries, including manufacturing, automobile, and engineering, among others.

The twin city is also well connected by road, rail, and air, which makes it a strategic location for business.

The city is a major trading centre for agricultural produce, such as cotton, sugarcane, peanuts, and sorghum.

The twin city is also a major education hub, with several prestigious education institutions located in the city. The city has several top engineering, medical, and management colleges, among others.

The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Dharwad, a premier engineering institute, is located in the twin city. It is also home to several prestigious institutions, including the Karnataka Institute of Medical Sciences (KIMS) and Karnataka University.

The twin city is also known for its advanced healthcare facilities. It has several hospitals providing quality medical care to residents and others living in North Karnataka.

It is also the political power centre of North Karnataka. It is the stronghold of the BJP. The city also houses Keshav Kunj, the office of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

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Water woes

People complained about poor basic amenities including drinking water and drainage facilities and the lack of a political will to develop it as an alternative IT hub.

“The twin city has great potential to develop as a hub for all sectors. But the elected members failed to ensure basic infrastructure,” Naveen Varanekar, a grocery shop owner and resident of Sanman Nagar, told South First.

“We elected Jagadish Shettar for the six consecutive terms but he failed to implement a 24×7 drinking water supply and proper drainage network,” he opined.

“We get water once every eight or 10 days. It will be severe in summer,” Varanekar pointed out at the severe drinking water issue in the twin city.

The W Bank-funded 24×7 drinking water supply project has been implemented in 36 out of the 82 wards in Hubballi-Dharwad City Corporation limits. The work is underway to implement the project in the remaining 46 wards.

The total project cost is ₹1,207 crore. Of the total project cost,  ₹623 crore is being funded by the World Bank with the state government paying around ₹65 crore and the city corporation putting in ₹242 crore.

The city has limited sources for supplying drinking water.

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Wanted: An IT hub

The youth want the government to develop the twin city as an alternative IT hub along with Mysuru in the state.

Karnataka Elections

Suraj Revankar. (South First)

“The twin city has several prestigious institutions including IIT-Dharwad and Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT)-Dharwad but doesn’t have prestigious companies,” Suraj Revanakar, an employee of a reputed IT company, told South First.

“We get a quality education here city but have very minimal opportunities in the IT sector. We have Infosys but it has only a BPO service and it is yet to start on a large scale,” he said.

“There are also around five to six startups in the IT sector but very few job opportunities,” he did not hide his disappointment.

“The government should focus on developing the IT hub. It has immense potential since most IT employees in Bengaluru or Mysuru are from North Karnataka,” he demanded.

“It will also boost the local economy and we also have good air connectivity to major cities,” Revankar opined.

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The Shettar factor

The Hubballi-Dharwad Central Assembly constituency is one of the most watched segments in Karnataka.

The unexpected political developments in the segment made national news when senior Lingayat leader and BJP’s former chief minister Jagadish Shettar ended his over four-decade-long affiliation with the saffron party and joined the Congress.

The BJP denied a ticket to Shettar and gave it to a party worker, Mohan Tenginakai, a Lingayat.

“The BJP wanted to develop a second line leadership in Hubballi-Dharwad Central Assembly seat as Shettar has represented it six consecutive terms,” political commentator Rajendra Patil told South First.

“It is also said that the party offered tickets to Shettar’s family members but he wanted a ticket for himself,” he claimed.

Clean image

“The party had other plans and it chose karyakarta Mohan Tenginakai, who has a clean image in the twin city. The party fielding another Lingayat, which is dominant in the segment, is a wise and strategic move to fight Shettar,” Patil said.

He added that the Lingayats are the deciding factor in the Hubballi-Dharwad Assembly segment.

“Shettar doesn’t have a single black mark in his political career. He has never demanded any post either in the government or the party. But he held all the major posts including that of the chief minister,” he stated.

“He managed to gain a loyal and huge fanbase in his over four-decade-long political career. He might have quit the party but enjoys great support,” Patil said. He felt Shettar has an edge over his BJP rival.

“He was the chief minister for over 10 months. His work was below expectations and he failed to address major issues, mainly in ensuring basic amenities,” he further said.

“He had got a good opportunity to develop the infrastructure of the twin city. He disappointed most of the people,” Patil added.

The JD(S) is not a significant force in the constituency. It has fielded Siddalingeshgouda M, who is making his debut in electoral politics.

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Caste equations

Lingayats, Muslims, SCs, and STs are the dominant castes in Hubballi-Dharwad. Brahmins, Kurubas, Somavamsha Sahasrarjun Kshatriyas (SSK), and Christians make up the rest.

Lingayats have around 96,000 votes, Muslims have around 40,000 votes, SSK has around 25,000 votes, Brahmin and Christians each have over 12,000 votes and others have over 58,000 votes.

“People consider party, development, and caste while exercising their franchise. Both BJP and Congress have their vote bank in the segment,” Patil said.

There are 2.46 lakh voters in the segment. Among them 1.22 lakh are men and 1.24 lakh are women.