Belagavi district with second highest number of assembly seats after Bengaluru Urban -- is expected to face tough contest between the BJP and Congress as Lingayat politics surmounts the local issues, but the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti (MES) could play spoilsport in a few seats as it wants to keep the border issue alive.
There are 18 assembly constituencies in the border district which is a Lingayat stronghold and has been a BJP bastion in the last two decades.
As in the last three elections, it is likely to be a straight contest between the BJP and Congress in most of the assembly seats barring five where the Shiv Sena-NCP supported MES -- a vocal proponent of the inclusion of Belagavi and other Marathi-speaking areas in Maharashtra -- has fielded local candidates.
The leadership vacuum in the Lingayat community after sidelining of stalwart leader B S Yediyurappa, demise of some prominent local Lingayat BJP leaders like Suresh Angadi and Umesh Katti and rising clout of politically influencial Jarkiholi family belonging to scheduled tribes community -- are expected to resonate among voters.
The exit of many disgruntled BJP leaders including three-time MLA and former Deputy Chief Minister Laxman Savadi from Belagavi, over denial of the ticket for the upcoming assembly election -- is likely to dent some votes here.
On the other hand, MES is trying hard to keep the border issue alive in Belagavi, which was part of the erstwhile Bombay Presidency and constitutes nearly 40 per cent Marathi-speaking population. The triangular fight could dent votes of national parties in five Marathi-speaking dominated constituencies.
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Five of the constituencies in the district are dominated by Marathas, while Lingayats form a majority in most of the 13 remaining constituencies. There is a sizable population of OBCs and SCs/STs as well, with two seats reserved for these groups in the district.
In the district, where many elected representatives are sugar barons, three powerful political families -- the Jharkiholis, the Jolles and the Khattis -- enjoy electoral dominance.
From the Jharkiholi family, Ramesh Jarkiholi and Balachandra Jarkiholi are contesting on a BJP ticket from Gokak and Arabhavi assembly constituencies, respectively. Another member of the family, Satish Jarkihol is contesting on a Congress ticket from theYemkanmardi seat.
The Jarkiholi brothers are known to change parties. Ramesh Jarkiholi was a minister in the Congress-JD(S) coalition government before joining the BJP ranks. He was among the 17 MLAs who defected from the Congress and helped BJP to topple the Congress-JDS coalition government in 2019.
Ramesh's clout in the district is hard to ignore as he has ensured BJP ticket to his followers who defected from Congress, which has upset the traditional party leaders especially his political rival Laxman Savadi
Another prominent family are Jolles represented by the incumbent Muzrai (Religious and Charitable Endowments) minister Shashikala Jolle who is contesting on BJP ticket from Nippani constituency. Her husband Anna Saheb Jolle is the BJP Lok Sabha member from Chikkodi in Belagavi district.
From the Khatti family, Ramesh Khatti -- who represented the Chikkodi parliamentary constituency from 2009-2014 -- is contesting on a BJP ticket from the Chikkodi-Sadalga MLA seat this time, while his nephew Nikil Katti from Hukkeri assembly constituency after untimely demise of his father Umesh Khatti, who was an eight time MLA and six time minister.
After quitting BJP over denial of a ticket, Laxman Savadi is contesting on a Congress ticket from the Athani assembly seat to avenge his humiliation from the saffron party, especially Ramesh Jarkiholi. He has to face Mahesh Kumathalli, then in the Congress, now the BJP nominee
Ramesh has differences with some Congress leaders like Laxmi Hebbalkar who is contesting from Belagavi Rural seat. Both of them are contesting from different constituencies but are trying hard to defeat each other to settle personal grudges.
There are 39.01 lakh voters in the 18 assembly constituencies of Belagavi district. Out of which, 19,68,928 are male voters, 19,32,576 women and 141 registered as Others, as per the official data.
In the 2018 polls, the BJP won 10 and Congress 8 seats, which changed after the defections in 2019. Three Congress MLAs Ramesh Jarkiholi (Gokak), Mahesh Kumathalli (Athani) and Shrimanth Patil (Kagwad) resigned and joined the BJP.
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