In a jolt to the Congress in Karnataka, one of its former minister and MLA, Pramod Madhwaraj, joined BJP, along with several senior leaders, on Saturday.
Among other senior Congress leaders who joined the ruling party are former MLC Sandesh Nagaraj, former state minister Varthur Prakash, former party MP K B Krishnamurthy, former MLA Manjunath Gowda, former IRS officer Lakshmi Ashwingowda, and Congress leader from Mandya Ashok Jayaram.
While Congress will now have to hunt for fresh faces in Udupi, BJP will face the challenge to accommodate the new entrant with the existing MLA and aspiring leaders.
Madhwaraj’s decision to join BJP has created a vacuum in Congress’s Udupi district leadership. Madhwaraj’s father, popularly known as Malpe Madwaraj, and mother Manorama Madhwaraj were both MLAs.
Among the leaders who have joined BJP, Madhwaraj and two-time Independent MLA Varthur Prakash were said to be in the camp of former Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah. Their exit indicates the divide between Siddaramaiah and state Congress chief D K Shivakumar continues to exist.
According to a source, another party leader from the Siddaramaiah camp is all set to join Aam Aadmi Party.
A party worker who is Siddaramaiah’s follower said, “There are only a few Congress leaders in Karnataka who are not said to be in either Shivakumar or Siddaramaiah camp. After Shivakumar took charge of state Congress, followers of Siddaramaiah are being ignored and a new set of leaders backed by Shivakumar are in the forefront.”
Madhwaraj, who was a minister in the Siddaramaiah government, did not enjoy good rapport with Shivakumar, sources said. Sources in Udupi said he had plans to join BJP after he lost the Lok Sabha elections to BJP’s Shobha Karandlaje from Udupi Chikmagalur constituency.
Sources also said it will be a challenge for the BJP leadership to accommodate Madhwaraj and give him an election ticket. The party’s current Udupi MLA, K Raghupathi Bhat, is said to enjoy support of locally influential people and is set to face a challenge.
Reacting to Madhwaraj’s entry to BJP, Raghupati Bhat said, “If not my opponent, he will be a contender from the party, which looks for fresh faces. We should be mentally prepared for anything that comes against us in politics.”
Besides Raghupati Bhat, local BJP leader Yashpal Suvarna is also making all efforts to get a ticket from Udupi constituency, a source in BJP said.
For the Congress, Madhwaraj, who comes from Mogaveera community, a community in coastal district Udupi, can affect their prospects. “You cannot call Pramod a leader who can make a big difference but he has played a crucial role in sustaining the Congress vote base in the region,” a party leader said.
In 2008, Madhwaraj, contesting on Congress ticket, lost to BJP’s Raghupati Bhat by 2,500; he defeated B Sudhakar Shetty of BJP from the same constituency in 2013 elections by over 39,000 votes. The BJP regained the seat in the last elections in 2018, with Bhat winning a close contest by just about 2,000 votes.
Attempt to woo Mandya region
In an attempt to mark its presence in Mandya, BJP has planned to organise a party convention. Before the event, Congress’s Mandya region leader Ashok Jayaram and Lakshmi Ashwingowda joined BJP on Saturday. While the Mandya-Ramanagara region is likely to be the prestigious battle for BJP and Congress, BJP is now starting to execute its plans that were discussed in the last state core committee meeting.
Shivakumar, who represents Kanakapura constituency, organised Mekedatu Padayatra in an effort to strengthen the party’s base in Bengaluru-Ramanagara-Mandya region. Mandya region has been a stronghold of JD(S) and Congress for long.
On the convention, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai recently said that leaders from Kolar and Mandya are joining BJP and will be inducted in batches. “A strong leadership is all set to emerge in Mandya as a wave is seen,” he said.
The efforts to draw Mandya MP Sumalatha Ambareesh, however, has taken a back seat for BJP after she said that she would not join the saffron party. Sumalatha said, “Karnataka minister C N Ashwath Narayan and other BJP functionaries invited me to join the party. But as of now there is no necessity for me to join. I will continue as an Independent MP. I will take the opinion of my supporters and voters before joining the BJP. I am yet to take a call on it.”