Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) working president Satish Jarkiholi is a three-time legislator from Yemkanmardi, a constituency in Belagavi district reserved for the Scheduled Tribe (ST) community. In an interview, he tells The Indian Express that the BJP government’s new reservation policy would not cause a major shift in the SC-ST vote to the ruling party. The “insult” the BJP has meted out to Lingayat leaders will benefit the Congress as some of these politicians have joined the Opposition party, Jarkiholi says, but adds, “It is not possible that the votes will swing completely in our favour.”
The Congress had a higher vote share than the BJP in 2018, but it won fewer seats.
Jarkiholi: Without a doubt, we will secure more votes than we did last time. The number of seats will also increase as is being indicated by various surveys and the party cadre on the ground. People have decided to give the Congress another opportunity. We will definitely secure a simple majority.
Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai claims the new reservation policy will help the BJP, with SC/ST communities now supporting it. You are an ST leader. How do you see it?
Jarkiholi: Irrespective of the benefits they perceive, communities which have backed one party for years will not shift their loyalties in a go. For 70 years, these communities have benefited from the Congress. Similarly, those who think BJP policies have helped them will not return to the Congress immediately.
People may say there has been some benefit, but it was we who gave reservation in the first place. These communities have benefited from it since Independence. Therefore, there would not be a major swing in the votes of these communities (due to the reservation policy). Swing, if any, will be marginal.
There is a lot of discussion on wooing Lingayats or having a Lingayat CM. Does this focus on one community affect other communities?
Jarkiholi: Nothing like that. The Lingayat issue is being discussed because the BJP has thrown out many Lingayat leaders without giving them a ticket. There is a lot of talk about how the BJP insulted those leaders and wants to finish them.
It is not certain how much the Congress will benefit, until the elections are over. But, due to the induction of senior Lingayat leaders, there will be a small shift in votes in our favour. But, it is not possible that the votes will completely move to us.
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The BJP had projected (Cabinet) minister B Sriramulu as the deputy CM candidate in the last election, but now he is largely sidelined. The party has now roped in actor Kichha Sudeep, who belongs to an ST community.
Jarkiholi: This is the BJP’s strategy — those who take the lead in one election are sidelined in the next one. Once a leader is in the BJP, they do not care about them. They try to attract other leaders. Once the vote bank of a particular community is secured (with the help of a leader), then the person is ignored.
There are a lot of CM aspirants in the Congress, including Opposition leader Siddaramaiah and KPCC president D K Shivakumar. Congress leader M B Patil has said he is also an aspirant. Are you an aspirant too?
Jarkiholi: No, I do not have any claim to the post at all. Our only objective is to ensure that the Congress forms the government. None of us are in the CM race. Only Siddaramaiah and D K Shivakumar are.
What are the top issues in this election?
Jarkiholi: Inflation, lack of development and rampant corruption have been prominent under BJP rule. These factors will definitely help us.
The Congress has made several guarantees to voters. Have they resonated with voters?
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Jarkiholi: We have got very good feedback. Various sections of society, especially the poor, are attracted to our assurances. They feel that it will help them lead a better life. They have come to a decision (to vote for us).
What is your view on the prospects of the JD(S)?
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Jarkiholi: The JD(S) has its presence largely in the old Mysore region. We have to wait and see. All surveys have said they will win 25 to 30 seats or around the number of seats they won in 2018 (39).