Karnataka byelections: High stakes for BJP and Congress bigwigs

Bengaluru: Much is at stake for Chief Minister B. S. Yeddiyurappa and his son B. Y. Vijeyendra, who is vice president of the party in the State, at three byelections in Karnataka to be held on April 14.

Although the byelection is also being held for Belgaum Lok Sabha seat (due to death of the sitting MP Suresh Angadi), the Oppostion Congress is focusing its might on two Assembly segments of Maski and Basavakalyan. The polling is due on April 17.

The BJP has deployed Vijeyendra as the chief poll manager at the two places. While BJP is all likely to bag the Belgaum LS seat, the victory prospects in Maski and Basavakalyan are marred with several imponderables. Former Chief Minster Siddramaiah together with top party leaders Eshwar Khandre and R. Dhruvanarayan have lodged themselves in the area since April 2 when the campaign began. Even KPCC chief D. K. Shivakumar (DKS) has campaigned for the Congress candidates for several days. Both seats were won by the Congress during the Assembly elections in April 2018. Basavakalyan seat fell vacant due to the death of the sitting Congress MLA Narayan Rao. The party has nominated his widow Mallamma to harvest the sympathy vote. In Maski, a reserved seat, which was won by the Congress Party’s Pratapgouda Patil in 2018. He defected to the BJP together with 14 others but the Speaker disqualified him. He has now been fielded by the BJP and facing Basanagouda Turvihal who had lost on the BJP ticket last time. The victory margin was mere 213. It is thus a contest between the two old foes after having exchanged the parties.

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It may be a four-cornered contest in Basavakalyan as a BJP rebel Mallikarjuna Khuba is contesting as an independent. He is from Lingayath community and considered a spoiler for the BJP candidate Salagar who is also Lingayath. Maratha community has nearly 40,000 votes in the constituency and had expected the BJP to put up a candidate from the community. NCP too had put up a candidate Mr. Marutirao Muley, from Maratha community, in the fray. But the BJP persuaded him to withdraw on April 3 before the nominations were finalized. However, the BJP is facing Maratha resentment.

But things are not easy for the Congress too. The JDS has nominated Yasrab Ali Qadri as its candidate hoping to carve up a section of Muslim votes who constitute a community of over 30,000 voters which would have otherwise solidly fallen into the Congress kitty. In 2018, the Congress had won the seat with a margin of 17,000 votes.

The bypolls offer a second chance for KPCC Chief DKS to prove his mettle. Earlier, in December the Congress had lost the two byelections held in Sira and R. R. Nagar in Bengaluru outskirts. Ever since the Congress-JDS coalition collapsed under the weight of contradictions in August 2019, the State has witnessed byelections in 18 constituencies in two rounds. In the first round in November 2019, Congress could win only three while the BJP bagged 15 seats, mainly those who defected from the Congress causing the collapse of the coalition govt.

If the BJP wins even two of the three byelections being held on April 17, Yediyurappa loyalists can pitch for bigger responsibilities for his son Vijeyendra within the party. If the results turn out to be adverse for the BJP, his detractors such as Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, who has been firing salvos against the CM day in and day out, will score a point and demand for replacement of Yediyurappa will only grow fiercer.

M A Siraj is Bengaluru based seasoned journalist who writes for a variety of newspapers including The Hindu, and news portals.

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