Karnataka is gearing up for a mini trial of popular strength of political parties as bugle has been sounded for a by-election to two Assembly constituencies in the State. The polling will be held on November 3 alongside by-polls in several other states. There would be election for the four Legislative Council seats prior to this on October 28.
The Assembly constituencies to witness by-elections are Sira and Rajarajeshwarinagar (R. R. Nagar). Sira is a rural constituency in Tumkur district while R. R. Nagar lies within Bengaluru municipal limits and is a newly inducted area into Bengaluru urban district. All three parties—the Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party and Janata Dal Secular—are fielding the candidates. Sira is a Vokkaliga dominated constituency. R. R. Nagar too has nearly one lakh Vokkaligas who constitute nearly 25% of the total electorate. The by-election in Sira was necessitated due to the death of sitting JDS MLA Sathyanarayana who died owing to Covid-19. R. R. Nagar had elected Munirathna Naidu as MLA on Congress ticket during April 2018 Assembly elections. He crossed over to the BJP in mass defection after General Elections in 2019 along with 14 other Congress and three JDS MLAs. The by-election in December 2019 to the constituency was withheld due to large scale malpractices reported to the Election Commission.
Test for DKS mettle
The by-elections have gained significance as both the segments lie in rural belt of Old Mysore where the BJP did not have much success so far. It won two seats for the first time in by-elections held on December 5 last year. The Congress and the JDS had been the main rivals in the past elections. Much would be at stake for Congress chief D. K. Shivakumar (DKS) who has taken over the reins of the party only six months ago.
Sira has been alternatively electing Congress and JDS candidates for the last three decades. Mr. T. B. Jayachandra has been declared the Congress candidate for the by-election while Kusuma H. will be the Congress candidate for R. R. Nagar. Jayachandra was Law Minister during the 2013-18 Congress Government and is a strong contender. The BJP has not announced its candidate, however, it is speculated that radiologist Dr. Rajesh Gowda will be fielded from here. The JDS has fielded Ammajamma, wife of deceased MLA Sathyanarayana to garner sympathy votes.
Massachusetts alumni in fray
The R. R. Nagar Congress candidate Ms. Kusuma H. is wife of Mr. D. K. Ravi, IAS officer who had committed suicide on March 16, 2015. Death of Ravi, known to be an efficient administrator, led to a public uproar. However, the CID inquiry concluded that he committed suicide due to personal reasons. Kusuma joined the Congress on Saturday (October 3) in the presence of KPCC chief Mr. D. K. Shivakumar. Kusuma holds an MS in Information Technology from the University of Massachusetts in Boston and teaches at Dayanand Sagar University in Bengaluru. Her father has been an old Congress loyalist and is a fundraiser for the party.
BJP in dilemma
For the BJP the choice of candidate for R. R. Nagar is not easy. It is torn between Munirathna Naidu who was elected on the Congress ticket in 2018 and later defected to the BJP, and Muniraju Gowda whom Munirathna had defeated. Chief Minister Yediyurppa is personally obliged to Munirathna. But it would be difficult to deny ticket to old loyalist Muniraju who fought on the BJP ticket last time and lost.
The Election Commission has announced elections to two Graduates constituencies—South East and Karnataka West; and two Teachers Constituencies—North East and Bengaluru, on October 28. These seats fell vacant due to end of the terms for the incumbents but the elections were deferred due to Covid-19 pandemic.
The outcome of the by-election to the two Assembly segments will be known on November 10 when the counting of votes will be taken up while the Council election outcome will be known on November 2.
M.A. Siraj is a senior journalist based in Bengaluru