In Karnataka BJP faces battle for survival, Congress, JD(S) eye return to power

Bypolls are key indicators on which way the political winds are blowing in a state or, indeed, even the country. In Karnataka, it is much more than that. It is about the survival of not just the government, but, more importantly, of political morality itself.

The bypolls were necessitated because incumbent MLAs from the Congress and JD(S) resigned and eventually ended as candidates of the BJP in the very same constituencies. Their “resignations” led to the collapse of the Congress-JD(S) government in the state.

The math goes thus: The House strength at 222 and not the real 224 seats, since elections to the RR Nagar and Maski constituencies have been held in abeyance.

The Congress has 66 MLAs and JD(S) 34; which gets the combine to a 100 MLAs. If they choose to have a reunion, the combine would need to win at least 12 seats to form the government.

But for the BJP, which has 106 MLAs, winning at least 8 seats is crucial for its continuance, but more would also help Chief Minister Yediyurrappa stabilise the rocking boat.

For the JD(S), the Vokalliga-dominated Old Mysuru region holds the key. Of the 12 assembly constituencies the party is contesting from, JD(S) leaders having been focusing on seven seats. Including Hunsur, KR Pete, in Bengaluru (excluding KR Puram), Chikkaballapura and Gokak.

Meanwhile, the BJP is a house in turmoil. It has been witnessing severe dissensions both within the party and in its traditional Lingayat dominated seats as well.

Trouble for Chief Minister Yediyurappa has come from leaders in party who believe they have been with the party all along and deserve to contest from the seats going to the hustings. The CM has had to keep his word and ensure that the defectors get to contest those seats, as promised.

Voters, even if traditional BJP supporters, have had their own rethink and are expected to make December 9, the day of the results, a nail-biting affair.

For instance, the three seats in the Mumbai-Karnataka regions, where the party’s traditional Lingayat voters dominate are expected to swing to either the Congress or the JD(S)

Gokak ostensibly is witnessing a triangular contest between the Congress, BJP and JDS. But if reports are to be believed, the constituency is witnessing a serious anti-Jarkiholi sentiment, which puts paid to the chances of the BJP’s Ramesh Jarkiholi and his brother the Congress’ Lakhan Jarkiholi. The Jarkiholi family has had a stranglehold over Gokak for the past couple of decades.

Thus, the JD(S)’ Ashok Pujari, a well known Lingayat leader, is considered a favourite.

In Athani constituency, several groups within the BJP have opposed supporting BJP’s Mahesh Kumathalli.

In a constituency like Kagwad in Belagavi district, the three-way contest with sugar baron Shrimant Patil contesting this time as a BJP who is pitted against Raju Kage who, this time, is with the Congress.

The JD(S) Shrishail Tugashetty is expected to make this contest a close one. The independent candidate, Vivek Shetty, is also expected to attract a significant number of votes, making the Kage-Patil contest a close call.

This despite the caste composition of the constituency ostensibly aiding Kage, a three-time BJP MLA from the constituency, as he belongs to the dominant Lingayat community. The community, nevertheless, is considered a BJP vote bank. The other castes that make up the constituency are Jains, Kurubas, Marathas, Muslims and Dalits. Patil belongs to the Maratha community.

Patil’s image, as incumbent MLA, has taken a severe beating since his defection to the BJP. Voters are unlikely to forget that he wasn’t in Kagwad during the floods in August and was holed up in a Mumbai hotel with the other rebel MLAs.

The BJP’s nervousness is evident from the ill-advised acts like the joint raid on Tuesday night by the Income Tax Department and State Excise Department on the house of the Congress’ Ranebennur candidate, K B Koliwad.

The BJP is continuing to work hard on making inroads into Vokkaliga-dominated constituencies. The party wants to create history by opening its account in Mandya (KR Pet) and win Hunsur after a gap of  25 years. Yediyurappa’s was born in Bookanakere in KR Pet. The party has been giving enough hints that the party’s candidate KC Narayana Gowda will be made a minister if he wins. An important thing to be seen on results day is if the BJP does indeed make inroads into the Old Mysore region.

The Congress could indeed be witnessing a generational shift depending on how these election results go.

Former Chief Minister Siddiramiah will be the man to watch. If the BJP government collapses, he might want a Congress-led government, hopefully minus the Gowdas. But if the results don’t go well for the party, there will be many baying for his blood within the party, both in Delhi and in Bengaluru.

DK Shivakumar, the man who has borne the brunt of the Centre’s anger, is pushing hard to take centerstage.

Either way, the Congress will witness some turmoil, if government formation does not become the overriding priority come December 9.

The JD(S) is, as is its wont, going to play hard, but hopes to be merry. A cynical view might be to think that the JD(S) is about a family and its political business. But it has been an important shade in Karnataka’s political spectrum and it just might be fighting for more than just its seats. It might be for its continued relevance as a regional player.