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92 and fighting fit: Congress veteran and Lingayat heavyweight Shivashankarappa is ready for another poll race

At 92, he is arguably the oldest sitting legislator in the country, and trying his luck one more time. And nobody is writing off Congress veteran Shamanur Shivashankarappa just yet.

The industrialist-turned-politician is among the most powerful Lingayat leaders in Karnataka as head of the All India Veerashaiva Mahasabha, the premier body of the dominant community in the state. In Davanagere district, to which he belongs, he holds complete sway, having won all his elections from here – including five to the Assembly, and once to the Lok Sabha – after starting out in 1969 from the Davanagere municipality.

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Shivashankarappa is again considered the frontrunner from Davanagere South, from where he has been fielded by the Congress. Created post-delimitation in 2008, the seat has been held by Shivashankarappa since.

Shivashankarappa’s rare defeat was in the 1999 Lok Sabha polls from Davanagere when, ironically, the Congress had done exceptionally well, riding on Sonia Gandhi contesting her first Lok Sabha election from Bellary in Karnataka, besides Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh. The same year, Shivashankarappa’s son S S Mallikarjun contested from his father’s seat as MLA and won.

Re-elected from Davanagere North Assembly seat in 2013, Mallikarjun had lost in 2018. However, the Congress has fielded him again this time.

Shivashankarappa’s clout also flows from his role as Chairman of Bapuji Educational Institutions, with 54 colleges under its umbrella. In this, he is considered a major beneficiary of the liberal education policies under S Bangarappa as chief minister of Karnataka.

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Most recently, Shivashankarappa is believed to have played a key role in bringing over disgruntled BJP leader and former chief minister Jagadish Shettar, a fellow Lingayat, to the Congress. Shettar joined on Monday, and the loss of one of its oldest leaders in Karnataka is expected to sting the BJP.

Shettar is believed to have held extensive discussions with Shivashankarappa and another Congress leader, M B Patil, the Congress campaign committee chairman, before making the move. What helped was that Shettar is related to the two leaders – both Shettar and Patil’s sons are married to Shivashankarappa’s granddaughters.

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That Shivashankarappa is the ultimate survivor is reflected in a quote of his from 2016. On his way out from the Siddaramaiah Cabinet, where he was the horticulture minister, he was asked about his future plans. “All these days, I have been travelling in an Innova (provided by the government),” Shivashankarappa said. “Henceforth, I will go around in my (Mercedes) Benz.”

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