Turning the heat on former Prime Minister and JDS chief H D Deve Gowda, the ruling Congress in Karnataka has launched a full scale offensive to break his stranglehold over Hassan Lok Sabha constituency making it a bumpy ride for him in the Vokkaliga heartland.
In the twilight of his Parliamentary career, 81-year-old Gowda is playing the sentimental card, telling voters this would be his last polls as he slugs it out to retain his supremacy in a constituency dominated by his Vokkaliga caste.
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Energy Minister D K Shivakumar, both hostile to Gowda, have invested heavy prestige into the battle with the latter even micro-managing the strategy.
Gowda, who is seeking re-election for the fifth time in Hassan, is pitted against Congress' Manju, a three-time MLA also hailing from the Vokkaliga community who form over five lakh out of the 15-lakh voter base.
C H Vijayashankar of BJP has entered the fray half-heartedly after initial reluctance over denial of his claim to contest from Mysore, his home turf. A P Ahamad of BSP and six independents are also in the fray.
Hassan has remained unflinchingly loyal to JD(S) since 1991 barring the 1999 elections where Gowda lost to former minister G Puttaswamy Gowda (Cong) by over 1.47 lakh votes soon after he stepped down as prime minister.
Siddaramaiah has parked his top ministers in Hassan including Vokkaliga leaders, to woo the community and strategise at the micro level.
For Siddaramaiah, the election is an opportunity to settle personal scores over Gowda, who reportedly had denied the Kuruba leader to become chief minister during Congress-JDS coalition rule in 2006. He stepped in to end differences between Manju and District Congress President B Shivaram.
Shivakumar, also a Vokkaliga, had taken the fight into the JDS bastion and defeated Gowda's daughter-in-law Anita Kumaraswamy in 2013 Bangalore Rural Lok Sabha bypolls.
Shivakumar, known for his skills to mobilise resources - both men and material-- has been visiting Hassan district at least thrice a week.
Manju himself has been very vocal against Gowda during election campaigning. "People even made him the chief minister and Prime Minister, but he did not solve even simplest of problems. He does only those things which benefits his family," he alleges.
JDS, though finding it a hard battle, is confident that its supremo would retain the seat with a huge margin. Congress is building castles in the air, says JDS MLA H S Prakash.
Bhavani Revanna, wife of Gowda's son H D Revanna, says there is no need for Gowda to draw strategies and there are six JDS MLAs in Hassan who will ensure his victory.
Interestingly, both JDS and Congress have not been vocal in criticising Lingayat leaders including former BJP Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa as no party has fielded a candidate from that community, the second largest.
Both parties held a convention of Lingayats recently in order to woo them.
In the past elections, whenever BJP candidates secured an impressive vote share in the constituency, it was Gowda who walked away with the seat.
Vijayshankar belongs to Kuruba community, the third largest in the constituency, and is struggling to shrug off the outsider tag. No prominent BJP leader campaigning for him so far and Yeddyurappa's recent statement that senior leader like Gowda should be in Parliament have set tongues wagging about a clandestine understanding.
Before it could become the JDS bastion, Hassan came under the sway of H Siddananjappa, a Lingayat leader, who won on a Congress ticket defeating Vokkaliga heavyweights H Shivappa and D R Karigowda in the first Lok Sabha poll in 1951. He was re-elected in the 1957 and 1962 elections.
Over 50 per cent voters in the Vokkaliga-dominated district are farmers and middle class people. Approximately, 5.25 lakh voters are Vokkaligas followed by 2.85 lakh backward classes, 2.70 lakh SC/STs, 2.55 lakh Veerashaivas, 1.50 lakh Kurubas, 1.30 lakh minorities and 40,000 Brahmins.