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Congress scrambles to end infighting in Karnataka unit

Ramesh Jarkiholi , a minister, and his younger brother Satish Jarkiholi, a senior Congress leader, had clashed with MLA Lakshmi Hebbalkar, the chief of the state women’s wing of the party. At the heart of the fight was a tussle over the control of the Primary Land Development Bank in Belagavi.

Updated: Sep 07, 2018 19:38:53

Hindustan Times, Bengaluru

Congress’ Karnataka working president Eshwar Khandre met rival factions, and a “compromise” was struck where two candidates from MLA Hebbalkar’s faction were selected by Satish Jarkiholi to be president and vice-president of a bank’s board. (AP/Picture for representation)

The Congress on Friday claimed to have resolved an internal fracas with the party’s Karnataka unit working president Eshwar Khandre hammering out a peace deal between the influential Jarkiholi brothers and MLA Lakshmi Hebbalkar who had clashed over elections to a cooperative bank in Belagavi district last week.

Ramesh Jarkiholi , a minister, and his younger brother Satish Jarkiholi, a senior Congress leader, had clashed with Hebbalkar, who is also the chief of the state women’s wing of the party, and their public statements against each other had given the party a major headache. At the heart of the fight was a tussle over the control of the Primary Land Development Bank in Belagavi.

The bank, which gives long-term agricultural credit, had been in the control of the Jarkiholis which Hebbalkar’s followers had sought to challenge. This sparked a war of words between the Jarkiholis and Hebbalkar.

However, the matter was “resolved” on Friday by Khandre, who held meetings with the rival factions, and a “compromise” formula was struck where two candidates from Hebbalkar’s faction were selected by Satish Jarkiholi to be president and vice-president of the bank’s board. The Jarkiholis had contended that presidents and vice-presidents had been elected unopposed over the past 20 years.



Addressing a press conference along with Satish Jarkiholi and Hebbalkar, Khandre said there were no divisions within the Congress. “Belagavi Congress doesn’t have any differences and there is no issue here. This is a small election and the issue has been resolved,” he said. “There was a communication gap between both groups.”

But Hebbalkar did not hide her resentment over the comments made against her by the Jarkiholis over the past week, even as accepted the party’s decision. “The candidates were chosen on the basis of a consensus,” she said before adding cryptically: “I will not respond to personal comments. God is my witness.”

Meanwhile, Satish Jarkiholi said the issue was related to the local leaders and he had said as much over the past week. “There was a communication gap, which created this problem,” he said.

He also insisted that the issue would not affect the party’s prospects in the district in the Lok Sabha elections. “Whatever differences we have fades away when it becomes a question of the party,” Jarkiholi said.

Economist D Rajashekhar, faculty at the Institute of Social and Economic Change, said the tussle was over rural credit, which is a means of developing vote banks. He said in this instance the fight seemed linked to the sugar factories the rival factions owned.

“In districts like Belagavi, where sugarcane cultivation is high, the cooperative societies wield very high influence, which similar to what can be seen in Maharashtra as well,” Rajashekhar said. Belagavi district accounts for 40% of sugarcane production in the state, according to the Karnataka Agricultural Prices Commission.

Rajashekhar said the PLD bank, which provide long-term loans unlike commercial banks and other cooperative banks, were particularly suited for such crops.

“In these cases the factories act as guarantors for the loans, with the obligation that the farmers sell to particular factories. This helps the local leaders develop vote banks through their patronage networks,” Rajashekhar said.

While the Congress claimed that the differences have been settled, analyst Narendar Pani, faculty at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, said with former chief minister Siddaramaiah taking a back seat at the moment, district level leaders were staking claim to fill the void.

“This instance has only highlighted Siddaramaiah’s able stewardship of the party over five year,” Pani said. “At present, the Jarkiholis have clearly benefitted from this tussle and seem to have succeeded in showing their local clout to the Congress high command,” he said.

Even as Satish Jarkiholi moved to quell rumours of the brothers moving out of the party, in light of his elder brother’s warning of a strong decision from the family, speculation has been rife since the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) government took office that some leaders might shift to the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Pani, however, said the JD(S) appeared a better fit for the Jarkiholis because the BJP in the district was dominated by Lingayat leaders while the brothers hail from the Nayaka community which is classified as a Scheduled Tribe.

“The Janata Dal (Secular) would be a more appealing option simply because it doesn’t have much of an organisation in the area, and, hence, there will be no local challengers to the Jarkiholis,” Pani said.

First Published: Sep 07, 2018 19:38:16

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