Bengaluru: Bypolls to two assembly seats of Sindagi and Hangal in Karnataka are witnessing a battle of the titans even though their outcomes will have no impact on either the ruling party or the opposition.
The BJP’s Basavaraj Bommai government in Karnataka enjoys a more than comfortable majority, with 120 of its legislators and support from one Independent in a 224-member House.
The outcome of the bypolls is insignificant numerically but the BJP, Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) are pulling out all stops to win the seats that have become prestige seats.
While the BJP is being led by Karnataka Chief Minister Bommai and a host of state ministers, the Congress is fighting under the leadership of ex-CM Siddaramaiah and state unit chief D.K. Shivakumar. Former PM H.D. Deve Gowda is leading the charge for the JD(S).
The bypolls are scheduled to take place on 30 October.
Why BJP is pushing for win
On 17 October, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai made an emotional appeal in Hangal. “We (BJP) are rooted here. Shivaraj Sajjanar (BJP candidate) was born here and will die here, Shivakumar Udasi (BJP MP) was born and will die here. I too will die here and I will be buried here,” he said.
During his first leg of campaign for the bypolls, Bommai was targeting the Congress as “outsiders” while making the appeal in Hangal.
“I am one among you. Whether you call me son-in-law or grandson, I am one among you. The vote you give to Sajjanar will be your vote for (PM) Modi, for (ex-CM) Yediyurappa,” Bommai added in his appeal.
For Bommai, winning both seats is a matter of perception politics. Both Sindagi and Hangal have a strong Lingayat voter presence, estimated to be around 70,000 and 62,000, respectively.
The BJP chose to field Sajjanar instead of giving a ticket to a family member of late MLA C.M. Udasi — a six-time legislator whose demise necessitated the bypoll in Hangal. The move had left the influential Udasi family miffed.
Even as the party convinced the family to support Sajjanar, Bommai had to bring another legislator from Haveri, Neharu Olekar, on board to campaign for the party with the assurance of a cabinet berth.
“Yes, numerically the results are insignificant but we approach each seat as if it were a do or die,” N. Ravikumar, general secretary of the Karnataka BJP and one of the in-charges of Hangal seat, told ThePrint.
The BJP is banking on the popularity of its late MLA CM Udasi apart from the Modi factor, B.S. Yediyurappa’s appeal and the favour it stands to gain as a ruling party going into bypolls.
“Our appeal to people is simple. They had anyway elected a BJP MLA for five years in Hangal. We are simply asking them to give us the rest of the term too. In Sindagi, where we have fielded Ramesh Bhusanur, our question to the people is simple, will Congress come back to power if it wins these seats? People understand they have more to gain if a BJP candidate wins since our party is in power,” Ravikumar added.
The BJP has appointed 13 in-charges each for the two assembly seats, including ministers in the Bommai cabinet. Former CM B.S. Yediyurappa is scheduled to campaign for four days starting 20 October.
“It’s a tricky situation. If the party wins both seats then Yediyurappa’s baiters will declare that the party doesn’t need him anymore to win elections. And if they lose, it will be embarrassing for Bommai, the party as well as Yediyurappa, who had to put his foot down and ensures his son and BJP vice-president B.Y. Vijayendra was named as one of the in-charges for Hangal after the initial list left him out,” a close aide of Yediyurappa told ThePrint.
It is with this conundrum that the veteran is campaigning in the Lingayat dominant seats.
Why the win is important for Congress
For the Congress, which did not hold either of the seats, this is a chance at repeating its Maski bypoll win.
“We may not have held the seats before but we have a terrific presence in Sindagi and Hangal. The bypolls are extremely important to show how much people are fed up with the BJP at the state and central level,” Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee Working President Eshwar Khandre told ThePrint.
From Lakhimpur Kheri violence to farm laws, hike in fuel, LPG prices and inflation to unfulfilled promises of BJP, the Congress is touching it all for its poll pitch, Khandre said.
While the Congress is insisting that they are approaching the bypolls with a “collective leadership”, party insiders agree that legislature party chief Siddaramaiah is more invested in Hangal and KPCC president D.K. Shivakumar in Sindagi.
“Our candidate in Hangal, Srinivas Mane, despite losing with a margin of about 5,000 votes in the last elections, has continued to work for the people. In Sindagi our candidate Ashok Managuli, has the favour of his late father’s goodwill,” Siddaramaiah told ThePrint in an interview last week.
The demise of M.C. Managuli, a former JD(S) legislator, necessitated the bypoll and his son is now contesting on a Congress ticket.
What JD(S) is fighting for
The JD(S) poll campaign is being led by former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda. The party has fielded Muslim candidates in both constituencies after it lost Ashok Managuli to the Congress.
The JD(S) has fielded Naziya Shakeel Angadi from Sindagi and Niyaz Shaik from Hangal.
While the party claims that the choice was made based on their qualifications, the Congress has alleged that the JD(S) was attempting to split Muslim votes to benefit the BJP like it did in Basavakalyan bypoll.
“JD(S) has fielded qualified candidates in Sindagi and Hangal but Siddaramaiah has alleged that our intention is to split votes and help the BJP. What stopped the Congress from fielding a Muslim candidate then?” H.D. Kumaraswamy, former CM and JD(S) legislature party chief said during his election campaign Tuesday.
He pointed out that the Congress has always landed in the third place in Sindagi and has no considerable stake.
Despite the convention that the ruling dispensation has an advantage in bypolls and the possibility of JD(S) splitting its voters, the Congress is sure of victory in both seats.
“This fielding of Muslim candidates as a means of diversion doesn’t work always. People have started seeing through the charade,” KPCC Working President Ramalinga Reddy told ThePrint.
While its leaders insist that both seats are favourable to the BJP, party insiders hint at it not being a cakewalk.
“As of today, both seats are winnable but not without breaking a sweat. Even Hangal that should have been a cakewalk is proving to be a challenge,” a source from the state BJP told ThePrint.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)