The by-polls scheduled for 15 assembly constituencies is crucial for the survival of BJP government led by B.S. Yediyurappa. The BJP wrested power from the JD(S)-Congress coalition with the help of the 17 Congress and JD(S) MLAs, who resigned to deprive the combine of a majority on the floor of the House. The fate of the former MLAs, who helped the BJP come to power in the state, is to be decided by the Supreme Court where they have challenged their disqualification. However, the disqualified MLAs are upbeat about winning the case and contesting the coming byelections on BJP tickets, reports SHYAM SUNDAR VATTAM.
Hunsur, the birthplace of the iconic former Chief Minister of Karnataka, D Devaraja Urs, is famous for its teak wood and the Nagarhole National Park, a sanctuary visited by thousands of tourists from both India and abroad.
But come December and all eyes will be on it for another reason as the Congress battles it out with the Janata Dal (S) to win the Vokkaliga vote, which will decide the outcome of the bypoll in Hunsur assembly constituency.
While bypolls are scheduled for 15 assembly constituencies in all with their MLAs- 12 Congress and three JD(S) – resigning to bring down the Kumaraswamy government in July, Hunsur in Mysuru district and K R Pete in Mandya district will likely matter the most to both former Chief Ministers Siddaramaiah and H D Kumaraswamy, as their parties have a strong presence in these parts and will directly engage in a contest to win these seats.
Although the Vokkaligas are strong in Chikkaballapur and Mahalakshmi layout in Bengaluru too, the battle is not a straightforward one between the Congress and JD(S) in these constituencies as the BJP is a looming threat to them here, making it a three-cornered contest.
As far as the Lingayat dominated constituencies of North Karnataka are concerned, its a different story altogether as the BJP is in a stronger position in the region and will battle mainly with the Congress to win these seats.
The bypolls are crucial for the survival of the B S Yediyurappa government, which wrested power from the JD(S)-Congress coalition with the help of the 17 Congress and JD(S) MLAs, who resigned to deprive it of a majority. While the Election Commission has announced bypolls to 15 seats that have fallen vacant with their resignations, it has held them back for Maski in Raichur and R R Nagar in Bengaluru where the defeated candidates of the 2018 assembly poll have gone to court challenging the election of the legislators, who later resigned.
The former MLAs, who helped the BJP government come to power in the state, are, however, facing an uncertain future at present with the former Speaker disqualifying them. Their fate now remains in the hands of the Supreme Court where they have challenged their disqualification, but they seem upbeat about winning the case and contesting the coming byelections on a BJP ticket.
While Hunsur and K R Pete have a huge number of Vokkaliga voters, a victory for the Congress or the JD(S) in either has become uncertain with the former coalition partners seeming no longer on friendly terms with Mr Siddaramaiah publicly feuding with the father-son duo of H D Deve Gowda and Kumaraswmay.
Moreover, the former JD(S) Chief Minister appears to be cosying to the BJP, making its chances of winning in both constituencies stronger, although it has little base of its own in them.
The saffron party is expected to field disqualified Hunsur MLA, veteran politician, A H Vishwanath, who quit to back it in July. Having spent decades with the Congress, the Kuruba leader joined the JD(S), unhappy with his treatment by his old party, more specifically, the then Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, on the eve of the 2018 poll. The sympathy factor and the Vokkaligas of the constituency saw him romp home to victory on a JD(S) ticket. It was said even at the time that a section of BJP workers worked for his win as the saffron party didn't want the sitting Congress MLA, Manjunath, a Siddaramaiah loyalist to win. Although with Mr Vishwanath all set to join the BJP, Mr Siddaramaiah is now more determind than ever to work for a Congress win in the constituency, and has not spared him in his campaign, he may have an uphill battle on his hands . The Congress leader has even gone so far as to unofficially declare Mr Manjunath as the party candidate in the coming bypoll without waiting for the high command
to announce it, but it's believed that the sudden change of heart that Mr Kumaraswamy seems to be having now on the BJP could work to Mr Vishwanath’s advantage.
Says Mr Abdul Pasha, a sawmill owner in the town, "It would have been difficult for Vishwanath if the JD(S) had fielded its candidate in the constituency, but with Kumaraswamy hobnobbing with the BJP it could be easier for him. However, a lot depends on Siddaramaiah, who is working hard to defeat him." Disagreeing, Mr Siddesh, an owner of a provision store in the town, says Mr Vishwanath lost the confidence of the people when he switched his party loyalty for a second time recently. “ The people voted for him as a JD(S) candidate and certainly don’t agree with him resigning mid- way and imposing a mid- term poll on Hunsur. What's the guarantee that he will not shift his loyalty to another party?” he asks.
Although Mr Vishwanath will have to once again depend on the sympathy factor and BJP support to win from Hunsur, a lot will depend on the JD(S), which could bolster his chances by fielding a weak candidate from the constituency. Meanwhile there is also some amount of uncertainty on his contesting the bypoll at all as he had declared that the 2018 assembly poll would be his last electoral battle.
In K R Pete, the Congress and JD(S) had decided to take on the BJP together, but here too things have changed over the last week with Mr Kumaraswamy cosying up to the Lotus party. Till recently he appeared to be seething with anger against the party which dislodged him from power, but now he seems to have gone soft on it.
It is no secret that the charisma and influence of JD(S) supremo, Deve Gowda played an important role in the victory of party candidate, Narayana Gowda in the 2013 and 2018 assembly elections from the constituency. The Congress , which was washed out in the last assembly poll here, didn't bother to campaign wholeheartedly here during the Lok Sabha election, which saw Mr Kumaraswamy’s son, Nikhil, contest as a joint candidate of the coalition.
But in the changed political scenario, people of the constituency seem uncertain about who the JD(S) will support, admits Mr Krishna Gowda, a taluk panchayat member.
The BJP toyed with the idea of making disqualified K R Pete MLA, Narayana Gowda an MLC and fielding the Chief Minister’s son, B Y Vijayendra, in the bypoll, but dropped the idea after the former refused the offer of nomination to the Upper House. The Congress, meanwhile, has no choice but to field Mr Suresh Gowda to take on another Vokkaliga leader.
“If Narayana Gowda is fielded in the bypoll by the BJP, he could win if he gets the blessings of Kumaraswamy and his supporters,” says Mr Ramesh Gowda, a local BJP functionary. But the saffron party may still be on a winning ground even if it fails to win these seats or others in the coming bypolls as the JD(S) is increasingly making it clear that it could be open to supporting the BJP government from outside if the Congress corners a larger share of seats in the December byelections. This in sum could mean that Chief Minister Yediyurappa could have the last laugh as Mr Kumaraswamy and Mr Siddaramaiah continue their squabbling.