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Why North Karnataka is the gateway to power in Karnataka electoral politics

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Every five years, the arid and development deprived plains of North Karnataka turn into green pastures for political parties in the state whose interest in the region goes up many folds. The reason: no political party in Karnataka has come to power without a wave of support from the northern part of the state since 1983, analysts say.

This year is no different as the three major political parties--Congress, Janata Dal (Secular) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)--are chalking out strategies to focus on the region that couldn't be more apart from the more prosperous Cauvery river belt (southern Karnataka).

Why North Karnataka is the gateway to power in Karnataka electoral politics

The Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) has carved out the post of a second working president to represent north Karnataka, H D Kumaraswamy, state president of the JD(s) is undertaking month long tours and visits and BJP is fielding its chief ministerial candidate, B.S.Yeddyurappa from the region.

"Large districts that naturally throw up a higher number of constituencies, consolidation of Lingayats post reorganization and the massive voter turnout in comparison to the southern part of the state make North Karnataka politically important," said Harish Ramaswamy, political analyst and professor at the Karnatak university, Dharwad.

Yeddyurappa is looking to cash in on its past support and champion a resolution to the four-decade-old Mahadayi river (also known as Mandovi) with BJP ruled Goa.

The Siddaramaiah led Congress government aims to counter this with its north focus where the BJP enjoys more representation if it wants to retain power against the recent onslaught of the saffron party in other state elections. All three parties have been trying to cash in on the Lingayats, whose votes have largely remained with the BJP.

"At the ground level, the primary community (Lingayats) is seen to be religiously very conservative and cannot see itself moving away from the BJP," said Dr Sandeep Shastry, Political Analyst and pro-vice chancellor of Jain University.

How North Karnataka has voted historically

In 1983, the Congress had 48 seats, the Janata Paksha 29 seats, and the BJP a mere 5 seats from the region. In 2008, the BJP won 56 seats and helping the saffron party form the first ever government in the south. In 2013, the Karnataka Janata Paksha--headed by a disgruntled Yeddyurappa-- dented the BJP's chances to win merely 22 seats while the Congress won 57 seats--helping it form the government.

The key, analysts say, is to gain the support of the various religious Mutts (most prominent being Lingayats) and its influence over the population.

Adding to the Mutts is the presence of powerful politicians like Jarkiholi brothers, leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha and ten-time parliamentarian Mallikarjuna Kharge, mining baron G Janardhana Reddy among other from the north wield considerable influence turning the region into personality-- not party-driven 'bastions' over the years.

Successive governments have tried to focus on the north, albeit only for short periods of time and mostly symbolic like conducting the winter session of the state legislature in Suvarna Vidhana Soudha in Belagavi--about 500 kms from Bengaluru.

Six districts--Kalaburagi, Yadgir, Ballari, Bidar, Raichur and Koppal--enjoy special status under the provisions of Article 371 (J) of the Constitution the Karnataka government has earmarked higher grants to the region, although only a handful have been converted into prosperity for people of the region.

The importance of north Karnataka, however, has remained largely for political gains as the greenery and water deprived regions is the neglected stepchild of successive governments in Karnataka, whose focus has remained largely 'South centric'.

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