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Badami voters size up Siddaramaiah as he seeks backing

Badami (Karnataka): Forty-year-old Kamanna Heggri, an army havildar, has taken a month's leave to visit his village near this historical town in northern Karnataka best known for its famous cave temples. His mission now is to vote for Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who is contesting the assembly election from Badami, a constituency with a sizeable population of Kurubas, a community to which he belongs.

The constituency also has significant presence of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes Muslims and other backward castes -- the bedrock of Siddaramaiah's support base. However, a section of the voters is not going gaga over Siddaramaiah's decision to enter the fray from here, largely because he opted for Badami as his second choice, amid reports that he was on a sticky wicket in Chamundeshwari in Mysore district.

"I have come to vote for Siddaramaiah. Is it not a matter of pride that a sitting CM is seeking election from our place," asked Heggri. "How can we let him down? His election will certainly lead to development of the area," he said. He claims dozens like him in the army hailing from Badami in Bagalakote district are now home-bound just to vote for Siddaramaiah.

However, not all in this nondescript town, which came under media spotlight after Siddaramaiah threw his hat into the ring, share Heggri's enthusiasm. "Is he (Siddaramaiah) not an outsider? What has he done for Badami in the last five years? According to some media reports, he is contesting from here as he is not confident of victory in Chamundeshwari," said Veeresh, a Badami voter.

Another voter felt the chief minister's decision to contest from here was "opportunistic". "How many times did Siddaramaiah visit Badami in the last five years? If he wins from here and Chamundeshwari, he will certainly give up this seat," a resident, in his 50s, said.

Siddaramaiah government's schemes like "Anna Bhagya"-- a flagship project to make foodgrains available to common people at affordable prices-- have made people lazy and ensured that they get benefits easily without having to do anything, said another Badami resident.

Instead, he should have attempted to empower them, said the man who did not wish to be identified. "There hasn't been any development in Badami, where there is tremendous potential for tourism," he said. As Siddaramaiah's decision to contest from two places sparked a debate, with people seen involved in animated discussions over the move, the BJP and the JD(S) claimed the fear of an imminent defeat in Chamundeshwari prompted him to also contest from Badami, the capital of Chalukya dynasty between the 6th and the 12th centuries.

The Congress and Siddaramaiah have rejected the imputations, and insisted that people of this region wanted him to contest from Badami also. A political analyst said the Congress is hoping that the chief minister's presence in the fray here would infuse fresh energy into the party's campaign in north Karnataka.

The BJP considers the area its stronghold, especially the districts of Bagalakote, Vijayapura, Dharwad and Gadag. Congress leaders feel that Siddaramaiah's presence would encourage the fence-sitters to vote for the party. Former minister and five-time Badami Congress MLA, B B Chimmanakatti, who is ailing, was reluctant to give up his seat initially but eventually fell in line.

The BJP has fielded Ballari Lok Sabha member and influential tribal leader of the region, B Sriramulu, for the seat. With Sriramulu, a confidant of the resourceful and controversial Reddy brothers, joining the fray, the contest for Badami has become a big-ticket battle.

For Sriramulu too, Badami is the second constituency he is contesting apart from Molakalmuru in Chitradurga district. JD(S) candidate Hanumantha Mavinamarada, who is a local, is also putting up a spirited fight. "Both Siddaramaiah and Sriramulu are outsiders. I will win with a good margin," said Mavinamarada, exuding confidence.

He said he had released his election manifesto a year ago with details about what he will do for the constituency. "One person (Siddaramaiah) wants to win from here and go (later resign), and another person (Sriramulu) wants to defeat him. That"s their aim," Mavinamarada said. As he entered the battle, Siddaramaiah lost no opportunity to invoke the "Kannada pride".

"Badami (or ancient Vatapi) was the seat of power of the Chalukyas. Let us revive the memories of the glorious Kannada dynasty," Siddaramaiah tweeted after filing the nominations amid fanfare.

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