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Bypolls don’t make or break govts but this one in Karnataka can spell doom for BJP

15 constituencies will vote in the 5 December Karnataka bypolls, with the BJP requiring to win at least six to retain power in the state.

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Bengaluru: Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa faces another daunting test on 5 December, months after his trust vote in July, as 15 seats vote in bypolls in the state.

The bypolls, necessitated by defections from the Congress and JD(S) to the BJP in what was dubbed ‘Operation Kamala’, have become a battle for pride and, more importantly, stability in the Karnataka.

They are being seen as a referendum on the BJP as a decent win will ensure that the party enjoys a stable government in the state.

Also read: Karnataka BJP’s ‘Rs 1,200-cr candidate’ wants to win bypoll without help of party bigwigs

Why the bypolls?

The fragile H.D. Kumaraswamy-led Congress-JD(S) alliance government was brought down after 17 MLAs — 14 from Congress and three from the JD(S) — vacated their seats to join the BJP.

The then Karnataka Speaker Ramesh Kumar disqualified the 17 MLAs under the anti-defection law, bringing the strength of the Karnataka assembly from 224 to 207.

This brought the majority mark down to 104. It allowed the BJP, which was the single-largest party with 105 seats, to stake claim to power. The BJP was also supported by an Independent, bringing its number to 106. As a result, Yediyurappa was sworn in as the chief minister for the fourth time.

The disqualified MLAs, who were barred from contesting in the bypolls by the Speaker, moved the Supreme Court against the order. The court ruled in their favour.

The numbers game

Of the 17 legislators who defected, only 15 are slated to contest the bypolls. In the remaining two seats — Maski and Rajarajeshwari Nagar — petitions challenging the 2018 assembly election results are pending in the Karnataka High Court.

With only 15 seats going to polls, the assembly strength will move up to 222, leaving the majority mark at 112.

The BJP needs to win just six of the 15 seats to retain power in the state.

As for the Congress, the party now has 68 MLAs, but 11 of the defectors were from the party. The JD(S) has 34 MLAs but three of the rebels belonged to the party. The other rebel set to contest is an Independent.

Also read: Devendra Fadnavis wanted to do a Yediyurappa & quit on the floor of House, but BJP said no

Why are the bypolls crucial?

A senior official in the chief minister’s office described the bypolls as “one of Yediyurappa’s biggest challenges”. He said that in the present situation, the BJP will have to win in at least eight to 10 of the seats to keep its government safe.

“There is a difference between how much we hope to win and how much we are projecting,” he said. “We want all 15, but the fight is tough in some seats.”

For the Congress and JD(S), the elections are a way to seek revenge on the defectors. Former Congress chief minister Siddaramaiah had earlier told ThePrint that the party’s main objective is to ensure the defeat of the defectors who are contesting as BJP candidates in these bypolls.

Are all the defectors contesting? What are their prospects?

A day after the Supreme Court ruled that the defectors could contest the elections, 15 of them joined the BJP, of whom 14 have been given tickets.

One rebel, seven-time MLA Roshan Baig, the only Muslim face among the defectors, was not inducted into the BJP at the last minute.

Another rebel, Independent MLA R. Shankar, was denied a ticket from his seat of Ranibennur. Yediyurappa, instead, announced Arun Kumar Pujar as the BJP candidate for the constituency but said that he has promised Shankar a ministerial berth through the MLC route.

With the bypolls now around the corner, the BJP is confident of winning most of the seats in North Karnataka. It hopes to win in Athani, Hirekerur, Chikkaballapur, Vijayanagara, K.R. Pura, Yeshwanthpura, Mahalakshmi Layout, Gokak and Ranibennur.

The remaining seats of Kagwad, Yellapur, Shivajinagar, Hoskote, K.R. Pete and Hunsur are turning out to be tough contests.

The BJP is facing a backlash in these seats from even its own party workers who are averse to campaigning for candidates who have shifted from the Congress and the JD(S) as they had aggressively opposed them in the 2018 elections.

Another problem that the BJP faces in seats such as Kagwad, Hunsur and Hoskote is that voters are up in arms against the party candidates who they feel shifted allegiance for their “personal political growth”.

In Hoskote for example, the BJP has expelled Sharath Bache Gowda, the son of B.N. Bache Gowda, the party’s MP from Chikkaballapura, under which Hoskote falls, for defying the party diktat and contesting as an Independent.

The local BJP machinery appears to be backing Gowda as opposed to party candidate MTB Nagaraju.

In Hunsur, JD(S) rebel and BJP candidate A.H. Vishwanath has been facing resistance from voters. The JD(S) cadre have deserted Vishwanath, leaving it to the BJP supporters to ensure his victory.

Also read: Why BJP won’t discipline Anantkumar Hegde even though he’s a ‘rabble-rouser & hate-monger’


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