How Jarkiholis run ‘Republic of Belgaum’?

Gokak in Belgaum district, with nearly 220 years of history behind it, is home to one of the finest textile mills in India. With the market for the textile produced here spread across the world, the taluk itself is in deep political turmoil for quite some time.

With such a legacy behind it, the taluk was in the news a few days ago for all the wrong reasons.

Elections to the Belagavi Taluk Primary, Cooperative, Agricultural and Rural Development Bank (earlier known as Primary Land Development Bank) was held and the tussle between Congress leaders Laxmi Hebbalkar, on the one side, and the Jarkiholi brothers, on the other, raged on threatening to even bring down the Congress-JD(S) coalition government in the State. The Jarkiholi brothers were upset that the Hebbalkar- backed team won the bank elections to key posts. Though the controversy has ended on a conciliatory note, it cannot be said it has been settled for good.

This is not the first time the Jarkiholi brothers have fought a bitter battle for control of institutions and bodies in Belgaum, or at least in their taluk, Gokak.

In the early 1990s, the Gokak Mills, established in 1885, Shocked the entire nation on a December night when a dozens of workers lost their lives in a violent incident on the Mill premises. Nobody now wants to recall that tragic incident anymore but there is one striking similarity between that incident and the political developments now. Both had the Jarkiholis fighting for control of institutions and establishments. The people behind the violence, over 25 years ago, as registered in police files were the Jarkiholi brothers. The brothers fought tooth and nail to gain control of the labour union of the Mill. Who stood in their way was their own distant cousin Karning, a frail old man who had enjoyed the support of people in the town and the mill workers.

The Jarkiolis had a meteoric rise in politics and had wielded considerable influence in the Kannada film world by financing films that often turned out to be box-office hits. By 1997, the family had become a force to reckon with in the state's political arena.

Now, their ambition to be the uncrowned princes of the ‘Republic of Belgaum’ still runs deep in the family. In their pursuit, they see Water Resources & Medical Education Minister D K Shivakumar as an intruder in their territory since the minister seems to be backing Lakshmi Hebbalkar.

They do not want Shivakumar, who is considered running the ‘Republic of Kanakapura’ interfering in the affairs of the district, particularly in Gokak.

What has clearly revealed once again in the two episodes, nearly a quarter century apart, is that the muscle power, money power and the political power to control institutions in the district has not changed.

The incidents of the early 90s at the Gokak Mills have not ended but continue even today. The Jarkiholis still fight tooth and nail to control over their ‘Republic of Belgaum’. But many have forgotten about the innocent people who lost their lives in the meaningless violence that enabled the political leaders to rise higher and higher.

So how did the Jarkiholis come out of all this?

When this writer was working as a journalist for a national daily as a crime correspondent, he chronicled the entire Gokak episode. One late night he got a call from his Belgaum colleague tipping him off on an important development in police circles about the brothers. He dismissed this as ‘routine’, an easy word crime reporters use. A chance meeting with a senior police officer sometime later gave a new tip to the developments at Gokak Mills.

The officer refused to divulge more details as he was obviously scared.

Working on this tip this reporter gathered from other officers that the police department had recommended for externment from the district (Gadi Par in police parlance) the entire Jarkiholi family. There were upright police officers who confirmed the externment move.

This was the gist of the story that went on page one the next day.

Once this story was published, the reporter began to get threats. The Jarkiholis did some PR activity then. They caught hold of a tabloid editor, the one facing trouble in the assassination of Gauri Lankesh, to do a story depicting them as great sons of the soil. Their family pride seems to have restored for the next over 25 years.

Disclaimer: The writer is a senior journalist based in Bangalore. The views espressed are his own. This channel does not vouch for its authenticity.

Author:M K Madhusoodhan

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