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Why Rahul Gandhi Owes This Karnataka Town a Visit

File photo of Congress president Rahul Gandhi.

File photo of Congress president Rahul Gandhi.

The Congress president, who has just recently toured the six districts in Hyderabad-Karnataka region, will be touring neighbouring Mumbai-Karnataka region from Saturday.

Bengaluru: When Congress president Rahul Gandhi visits Bagalkote on Sunday, it will be some sort of repayment of the debt his grandmother Indira Gandhi had owed the locals 40 years ago.

Rahul, who has just recently toured the six districts in Hyderabad-Karnataka region, will be touring neighbouring Mumbai-Karnataka region from Saturday. The Congress president is expected to pay a visit to a settlement area in Bagalkote town.

After losing the Parliament elections in 1977, Indira Gandhi had come to Bagalkote for an Assembly by-poll campaign in 1978. The people were still angry with the excesses committed by her government during Emergency and nobody was ready to give her some space to hold a public meeting. Finally, 34-year-old Shivaji Chauhan came to her rescue. He asked Indira Gandhi to hold the meeting at his colony and even built a stage for her. When the police refused to give her security, the local youth formed a security ring around her carrying sticks in their hand to save her from any attack.

In that election, the Congress candidate won and Indira Gandhi had invited Chauhan's family to Delhi for a meal. They had travelled to Delhi and had a lunch with her. He claims that Indira Gandhi had also arranged for their sightseeing in the capital. Grandson Rahul's visit exactly after 40 years to the same place has created some excitement in Bagalkote.

Buoyed by the public response to his Hyderabad-Karnataka tour, the state Congress is planning to make his Mumbai-Karnataka tour also a big success. The top leaders of the state Congress have already asked local leaders to give him a grand welcome at all the places.

After landing at Sambra airport in Belgaum, Rahul will take a helicopter ride to Athani in northern part of Belgaum district. After addressing a public meeting there, he will cross over to neighbouring Bagalkote and Bijapura districts. On the third and last day, Rahul Gandhi will be touring Hubli–Dharwad areas.

However he is skipping Uttara Kannada and Haveri districts which are also part of Mumbai – Karnataka region.

The region bordering Goa and Maharashtra with seven Lok Sabha seats and 56 Assembly seats has been a BJP stronghold and the Lingayats are a dominant caste here. Mahadayi water dispute with Goa is also a big issue here. The BJP's mishandling of the Mahadayi issue has come as a boon to the ruling Congress and Rahul Gandhi is likely to mention it. The BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are avoiding the issue fearing a backlash.

The open backing of the Congress to separate religion tag for Lingayats may also help Rahul in galvanising their support in the region. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah will accompany him during the tour and his Kuruba (shepherds) caste also has a large presence in the region.

Mumbai–Karnataka was under the erstwhile Bombay presidency during the British rule and became a part of Karnataka on November 1, 1956. Even though the region has over three dozen big and small rivers, except Uttara Kannada other parts often face the brunt of drought. Sugar cane, fruits, vegetables, jawar, maize, sunflower, areca nut, coconut are grown here in a large scale.

Unlike his previous tour, Rahul is not scheduled to visit any temples this time. KPCC president Dr. G Parameshwara told News18 that he might visit some temples and other places of worship if he passes through them during the tour. In 2013 Assembly polls, the Congress did well in this region. Basaveshwara or Basavannam, the founder of Lingayat religion was born at Basavana Bagewadi in the same region.

Rahul Gandhi's three visits coincide with BJP president Amit Shah's tour of neighbouring Hyderabad-Karnataka region. Shah will land at Bidar on Saturday evening and will tour the region for the next three days. Two weeks ago Rahul Gandhi had travelled 700km by road from Bellary to Bidar. Shah will be travelling in the reverse direction from Bidar to southern parts of the region taking the same route.

For the next three days the Congress and the BJP would be shifting their base to north Karnataka following their respective leaders. Whoever wins these regions will certainly rule from state capital Bengaluru for the next five years.

first published:February 23, 2018, 16:00 IST