Family politics rules the roost in Gokak constituency

Hubballi: Politics of floods and the Jarkiholi family,  which has informally lorded over it for years, are playing a crucial role in Gokak as it heads for the December bypoll  

Thirty-five-year-old Veeranna Kumbar , who is one of the many who suffered in the recent floods in the constituency, is reluctant to  speak about the Jarkiholi brothers, who have locked horns with each other for the  byelections.  Busy clearing the debris of his house that  collapsed in floods, he says he fears losing compensation if he publicly supports one or the other brother.

He is not alone.  Almost all the flood victims in the town, where around 1,200 houses  collapsed in the disaster, are  unwilling to choose between the Jarkiholi brothers as they strongly believe that in the long run they will  remain united despite their public differences and allegiance to different political parties. Many are in a dilemma now as there could be a direct contest between two Jarkiholi brothers in Gokak constituency this time, unlike during past assembly elections, when it was mainly a battle between  Ramesh Jarkiholi and  others with political parties being totally insignificant in the contest.   

But this time  Ramesh could be up against his brother, Lakhan  should he be fielded by the  Congress in the byelection. Another of the Jarkiholi brothers, Satish, of the Congress party has  been campaigning hard for Lakhan, whose banners and cut-outs in every street of the town call him the 'candidate designate'. Mr Satish Jarkiholi, who is helping the flood victims clear the debris of their houses by giving them JCBs and labour from his sugar factory, has already earned some brownie points in the process.

"Satish Jarkiholi has come to our rescue to clear the debris of our house when were suffering from fungal infections after the devastating flood. I have received a compensation of Rs 1 lakh as well to start construction of our house. Both Satish and Ramesh Jarkiholi have helped us, although the latter is not here as much owing to his petition against his disqualification in the Supreme Court," said a flood victim, Begam Kumbari.

The fight between the Jarkiholi brothers could help BJP rebel,  Ashok Pujari should he contest from Gokak. But political analysts claim the Jarkiholi clan will not let its infighting go so far as to erode its political clout in Belagavi district. "Although the Jarkiholi brothers are hurling charges against each other, their rivalry will not continue for long as they will never allow an outsider to take over their family's supermacy in the district's politics. They are aware that Lingayat leaders of both the Congress and BJP are waiting to break their fortress," said political observer, Ashok Chandaragi. Moreover, Belagavi district is  home to several influential political clans like the Kattis, Hukkeris, and Jolles, who cannot flourish without the patronage of the Jarkiholi family.

Not surprisingly, there is growing speculation that one of the Jarkiholi brothers may stay neutral in the bypoll to retain the constituency in the family. Many here recall that their father, Laxman Jarkiholi campaigned for his son, Ramesh who was in the Congress at the time, although his other son, Bhimshi contested against him on a BJP ticket in the 2008 Assembly elections to prevent  splitting of their votebank.  

While Lingayat leader, Ashok Pujari, who joined the BJP from the JD(S) before the last Assembly elections, has posed a threat to the dominance of the Jarkiholis in the district, he has been left out in the cold with Mr Ramesh Jarkiholi planning to contest on the BJP ticket from the constituency. Undeterred, Mr Pujari is reportedly determined to contest the Gokak bypoll as an independent or on a Congress ticket and has already met several of its leaders.

Meanwhile, brothers Satish and Lakhan's efforts to win from Gokak have suffered a jolt with 23 taluk panchayat members from the Ramesh camp submitting their resignations in his support.

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