By Sandhya Ravishankar
Rajugouda Patil is unassuming and greets everyone with a smile. He listens patiently to this journalist’s broken Kannada and says, with a twinkle in his eyes – “Madam, you are trying very hard but you don’t know Kannada. Why don’t we speak in English or Hindi instead?”
And just like that, a laugh later, Patil eases into the subject of politics. He knows that he is the favourite in Devar Hippargi this time. Across castes and communities, voters in the constituency, located in Vijayapura district, immediately say his name when asked – “Ee sala illi yaaru gelittaru?” (Who will win here this time?)
“The sitting MLA in Devar Hippargi, Somanagouda Patil of the BJP, is not meeting the constituents and he is not available,” said Patil when asked about what his campaign pitch was going to be. “I am easily available and people know this. Second, I know the needs of the people here and I will fulfill them. We need good roads here, women need toilets. Since I am available, I visit them regularly, I answer calls. This is why I get affection,” he said.
But the goodwill for Rajugouda Patil was not always there. He was once a faithful follower of former Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa. So much so that when Yediyurappa rebelled against the BJP and formed his own party in 2012 – KJP or Karnataka Janata Paksha – Rajugouda went with him.
When Yediyurappa dismantled his KJP and returned to the BJP fold in 2014, Rajugouda followed his leader. However, as is the nature of politics, a falling out was waiting in the wings. With the rise of Basanagouda Patil Yatnal in Vijayapura, Rajugouda faced a threat. In 2018, he quit the BJP in a huff, taking 400 cadre with him.
JD(S) leader Kumaraswamy seized the moment and brought Rajugouda into the party fold along with a ticket. Rajugouda, however, lost the seat.
Political life has now come full circle for Rajugouda Patil, being pipped to take Devar Hippargi.
“I maintain friendly relations with some people in the BJP, there are no other ties with the party or its leaders,” said Patil, when asked about his exit and the subsequent turmoil. “Kumaranna called me when I quit the BJP and gave me respect and a ticket. We have a respectful relationship. Both Kumaranna and CM Ibrahim (JD(S) State President) avaru treat me like family. I am comfortable in JD(S) and I want to help build the party. The party is a farmers’ party and I too am a farmer,” he smiled.
Rajugouda Patil is excited about the JD(S)’ new aggressive and coordinated avatar.
“This time we are targeting to get a full majority,” said Patil. “We are requesting farmers and all voters to give us a chance. Our promises include international school facilities, giving farmers an amount during sowing season, building godowns, interest-free loans for farmers, jobs for women, 24X7 power for farmers, reverting to the Old Pension Scheme – and more. We are saying, give us a chance. And if we come to power and our government does not implement it, we will dissolve the party itself,” he explained.
Rajugouda Patil may be the favourite in Devar Hippargi but elections are seldom won without money. And his potential opponents in the BJP and the Congress have the muscle of money.
“I am planning a door to door campaign,” said Patil, when quizzed about his campaign strategy and how he would counter money power. “I want to touch everyone’s lives and ask them to trust me. The people of my constituency have already shown great love for me,” he said.
“In Budhal village during the last election, I got around 950 votes out of 1100 votes. It was touching – all castes came together to collect money and gave me Rs 5 lakh because they knew I was financially in poor shape. And in Kamankeri village, women got together and contributed their own savings for my campaign. Huvin Hippargi residents too came forward to contribute to my campaign last time. I had a lead of 780 votes here,” he smiled.
The sitting BJP MLA Somanagouda Patil is facing anti-incumbency. The potential Congress candidates are Prabhugouda and Anand Gouda. Gali Janardhana Reddy, former MP and founder of a new party KRPP, is also putting up a candidate in the constituency.
The road ahead is tough. But Rajugouda Patil has already begun his campaign with hope and a smile.