Bengaluru: A fraternal feud no less dramatic than the one depicted in the Bollywood classic Deewar. A merry-go-round of party-hopping that leaves the head reeling. Rebellion. Rivalry. Bitterness.
The upcoming bypolls to 15 Karnataka assembly seats have all the ingredients of a tantalising reality TV show. Not only do the elections hold the key to the fate of 13 of 15 Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) defectors, some of the individual contests promise to pack a serious punch.
The Jarkiholi saga
Karnataka’s sugar bowl Belagavi aka Belgaum accounts for 18 of Karnataka’s 224 seats. It is as famous for its sweets as its sugar barons, the Jarkiholi brothers of Gokak.
Ramesh Jarkiholi, the eldest of five influential politician-brothers, is one of the Congress rebels who is now with the BJP. He is contesting the Gokak bypoll next month against his brother Lakhan, who represents the Congress. Lakhan is supported by their brother Sathish. The incumbent MLA for Yamakanmaradi, Sathish also filed his nomination papers from Gokak as an Independent to weaken Ramesh’s prospects. However, the Election Commission rejected his candidature.
Ever since his exit from the Congress, Ramesh has been involved in several verbal duels with Sathish. Ahead of the elections, the sparring continues.
Change of roles
A day after the Supreme Court allowed the 15 rebel MLAs who brought down the Congress-JD(S) government in July to contest the 5 December bypolls, Raju Kage, a four-time BJP legislator from Kagwad in Belagavi district, joined the Congress.
In the 2018 election, Kage, representing the BJP, had lost his seat to Shrimanth Patil of the Congress. Their roles, however, stand reversed in the bypoll. Patil, another Congress rebel, is contesting on a BJP ticket.
BJP fights the rebellion within
The BJP has been trying hard to quell the rebellion triggered by its decision to nominate rebels from seats held by high-profile party leaders.
Congress rebel M.T.B. Nagaraju is contesting from Hosakote on a BJP ticket — but nominating Nagaraju meant depriving a ticket to Hosakote MP B.N. Bachegowda’s son Sharath, a BJP hopeful for the seat.
Clearly miffed, Sharath filed his nomination as an Independent, which led the BJP to expel him. Former Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal (Secular) has now announced that he is ready to support Sharath if he contests as an Independent.
Embers of rebellion also threaten to singe the BJP’s prospects in north Karnataka’s Athani, where the party has nominated Mahesh Kumathalli, yet another Congress rebel. In 2018, Kumathalli had defeated Karnataka deputy chief minister and BJP leader Laxman Savadi, who remains the popular choice of local party supporters.
BJP workers from the area have even begun an online campaign against Kumathalli, saying they cannot accept him as their leader.
“We are not ready to campaign for the man who we so aggressively campaigned against in the last elections,” said a senior party worker based in Belagavi.
“He has shifted sides only for his benefit… During his speeches, he has insulted the BJP and Prime Minister Modi,” he added.
The JD(S), headed by former Prime Minister Deve Gowda, has sprung a surprise by fielding a Lingayat, Girish Nashi, from the Bengaluru city constituency Mahalakshmi Layout.
Largely labelled a party catering to the Vokkaliga community, the JD(S), it seems, is also eager to expand its base among the Lingayats, who constitute 17 per cent of Karnataka’s population and can reportedly influence the outcome in 100 of the state’s 224 assembly seats.
“For the JD (S), it is a question of survival… They want to tell the voters that they are survivors and will fight to keep their base intact,” said political analyst Harish Ramaswamy.
“After Deve Gowda and his grandson Nikhil Kumaraswamy tasted defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, the party is now going all out to expand their party base across all sections,” the analyst added.
Another political analyst, Bengaluru-based A. Narayana, said the 15 bypolls also hold high stakes for the BJP.
“The stakes are quite high for the BJP in this election and there are indications that the Congress is not keen on toppling the government,” he added.
“But if you look at the spirit of the Supreme Court judgment [allowing the defectors to contest the elections], it seems that Operation Kamala is not being portrayed as something wrong,” he said, referring to the alleged BJP conspiracy to engineer defections in rival Karnataka parties.
“So, if the BJP wins fewer seats than they hope to, they will indulge in another round of Operation Kamala.”