Gabriel Vaz
Daijiworld Media Network - Bengaluru

Bengaluru, Apr 7: The countdown for Sunday’s twin by-elections for the Nanjangudand Gundlupet assembly constituencies in Mysuru and Chamarajanagar districts respectively in Karnataka has already begun.

Electoral campaign draws to a close on Friday. With polling scheduled on Sunday, counting for both constituencies will be on April 13.

The outcome of the two by-elections, being held hardly a year before next year’s assembly polls in the State, may not make much of a difference either for the ruling Congress party or the opposition BJP, both of which are engaged in a direct fight with JD(S) deciding to opt out of the contest.

However, the by-elections in constituencies close to the State capital of Bengaluru have assumed political overtones and importance to become almost a battle for survival for Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and his main political opponent B S Yeddyurappa, the Shimoga BJP MP and State BJP President.

Srinivas Prasad, Kalale Keshavamurthy, Niranjan Kumar, Geetha

Victory or defeat could also become crucial for the BJP candidate V Srinivasa Prasad, whose resignation from the Congress party and his assembly membership after being dropped from the Siddaramaiah cabinet, necessitated the by-election.

Though Prasad is 69, he is not in his pink of health. In fact, he is unable to actively campaign for his own election and confines himself to addressing or participating in a few public meetings. He has to depend upon Yeddyurappa as well as BJP leaders and party workers to work for him. His opponent Kalale Keshavamurthy, who narrowly lost to Prasad in the 2013 assembly polls on JD(S) ticket, and has now switched sides to become Congress candidate is much younger at 60 and has been busy in door-to-door campaign to woo his JD(S) supporters as well as Congress voters.

In Gundlupet, however, both Congress and BJP candidates are relatively young. The Congress candidate MC Mohana Kumari alias Geetha is the widow of former Minister HS Mahadeva Prasad, who death caused the by-election. While Geetha is 56, the BJP candidate CS Nirajana Kumar is even younger at 43. If Geetha is banking on the sympathy factor and huge popularity of her husband, who had won the seat five times in a row from Janata Dal and later Congress party, Niranjana is also hopeful of getting voter’s sympathy as he had lost in the last two elections against the deceased minister on BJP ticket.

The political significance of the two by-elections could be gauged from the non-stop election campaign launched by both the Congress, which is desperate to retain the two seats, and BJP, determined to wrest the seat in order to send out the signal to the electorate that it is on a comeback trail. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has taken the by-elections as a challenge to prove his popularity and also warn BJP that it is not easy to dislodge him, and has drafted almost two-dozen ministers as well as key legislators and MPs to supervise the nitty-gritty of electioneering in the two assembly segments since the last three weeks.

BJP, on the other hand, is equally determined to win both the seats and Yeddyurappa has taken upon himself the task of managing the elections. The seriousness with which Yeddyurappa has plunged himself into the campaign can be seen from the way he is leading it even at the cost of skipping the Lok Sabha session along with his trusted colleague Shobha Karandlaje, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stern warning the party MPs against absenteeism. Giving company to Yeddyurappa are Union ministers from the State Ananth Kumar and DV Sadananda Gowda, opposition leader in the assembly Jagadish Shettar, as well as more than 20 influential party leaders and legislators. Veteran Congress leader SM Krishna, who had quit the party and joined BJP after the announcement of elections, also attended a couple of meetings.

Though Nanjangud is a constituency reserved for Scheduled Castes, it has a sizeable chunk of Lingayat voters and those belonging to Kurubas and other Backward Classes along with Dalits. In Gundlupet, however, Lingayats are predominant with Dalits, Kurubas and OBCs is sufficiently large numbers. Lingayats and Dalits are the deciding factor in both constituencies, which explains why Yeddyurappa, Shettar and other Lingayat leaders are seriously campaigning. Siddaramaiah has entrusted the electioneering to Dr HC Mahadevappa, who belongs to the Dalit community, Lok Sabha member Dhruvanarayana, also a Dalit, Energy Minister and Vokkaliga leader D K Shivakumar and a host of others. The ruling Congress party, especially the CM, are certainly counting on the support of Siddaramaiah’s Kuruba community as well as the AHINDA (Kannada acronym for Minorities, Backward Classes and Dalits) votebanks.

What might benefit the ruling Congress party is the animosity between the Dalits and Lingayats, especially the killings and destruction of Dalits and their hamlets at Badanavalu two decades ago, which is still remembered by old-timers. For the Dalits, victory of Prasad will be akin to strengthening the hands of Lingayat leader Yeddyurappa and weakening Siddaramaiah, a Kuruba and AHINDA champion. Yeddyurappa and BJP is counting on the increased support of Dalits to BJP, especially after Modi and Amit Shah took over the leadership, as was evidenced in the State and also in the just concluded Uttar Pradesh polls.

The Congress leaders, including the CM, are reminding the voters of the lynching of Dalits in Gujarat’s Una by the Gau Rakshana brigade and many other places, which they hope might carry conviction. Religious polarisation of voters, however, is unlikely to happen in Mysuru or Chamarajanagara districts. Siddaramaiah and Yeddyurappa as well as the Congress and BJP workers are keeping their fingers crossed waiting for the verdict on April 13.