Signalling shrinking support for the powerful Reddy brothers and the BJP in Ballari, the Congress Tuesday regained the Ballari Lok Sabha constituency in Karnataka after almost 15 years, winning the recently concluded bypoll by a margin of almost 2.5 lakh votes.
The Ballari victory was icing on the cake for the ruling JD (S)-Congress alliance, which also registered thumping wins over the BJP in four of five (three Lok Sabha and two Assembly) seats in bypolls conducted on November 3. The BJP retained the Shimoga LS seat, where BJP state chief B S Yeddyurappa’s son, B Y Raghavendra beat the JD (S).
The sweep in the bypolls has given the JD (S) and Congress enough impetus to carry the alliance forward into the 2019 parliament elections. While JD (S) and Congress leaders said that alliance talks for the 2019 polls would progress faster now, state BJP leaders called for “introspection”.
“It is the joint efforts of the leaders and workers of the JD (S) and Congress that has made this victory possible in four seats. In Parliament polls also, the JD (S) and Congress will contest together. We will finalise ticket- sharing after taking Rahul Gandhi and local Congress leaders into confidence,’” said JD (S) BJP bastion Ballari falls, as Cong-JD(S) takes Karnataka 4-1 national president and former prime minister H D Devegowda.
Bypolls to the Ballari, Mandya and Shimoga Lok Sabha seats were necessitated by the resignations of B Sreeramulu of the BJP, C S Puttaraju of the JD (S), and BJP state chief Yeddyurappa after they were elected to Karnataka Assembly in May this year.
The ruling JDS-Congress coalition also registered wins in bypolls to the Jamkhandi and Ramanagaram Assembly seats necessitated by the death of the Congress MLA Siddu Nyamagouda in a car crash and the resignation of Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy from Ramanagaram after winning from two seats in May.
The Congress candidate in Ballari, V S Ugrappa, a former member of the state legislative council, and an outsider to Ballari politics, trumped the BJP’s former MP J Shanta, the sister of local BJP strong man Sreeramulu, by a margin of 2.43 lakh votes to secure the first Congress win here for the first time since the iron ore mining boom changed Ballari’s politics at the turn of the century.
Former BJP deputy chief minister R Ashok said: “We accept the defeat in Ballari. We will not blame anyone for the loss. In Ballari, the Congress won six of eight assembly seats in May and in this Lok Sabha bypoll, the result follows the assembly election.” Former BJP minister S Suresh Kumar said that “it is a time for introspection.”
Ashok also said that the results of the poll were largely on expected lines other than the verdict in Ballari. “Despite the Congress-JDS coalition, the BJP will win the majority of seats in the Lok Sabha polls in Karnataka. This is only a temporary setback,’’ he said.
Ballari was a Congress stronghold till 1999 when Congress leader Sonia Gandhi contested from the seat and defeated the BJP’s Sushma Swaraj in a high voltage election. In 2004, using a combination of the money power of the Reddy brothers and the local standing of Sreeramulu, a leader of the dominant Valmiki Nayak community, the BJP dominated elections in the Lok Sabha seat reserved for Scheduled Tribe candidates (since 2009) until now.
The first signs that Ballari was slipping from the BJP was evident in the Assembly polls, where the party won only three of nine assembly segments. For the bypoll, Sriramulu shouldered the BJP campaign since former BJP minister G Janardhan Reddy is banned from entering Ballari while on trial in a CBI case.
The Congress-JDS alliance managed to wrest the constituency from the BJP after a concerted campaign that saw top leaders of both parties camp in Ballari for days. The Congress campaign on the ground in Ballari was spearheaded by the minister D K Shivakumar, who attempted to wean the sizable Lingayat community in the region to the Congress side by tendering an apology for the Congress’s attempts to split the community before the May 2018 Assembly polls.
The Congress-JDS alliance also ensured that local Congress MLAs from Ballari put their weight behind the party during the campaign. The Congress was also helped to some extent by intemperate remarks made by G Janardhan Reddy regarding the death of former chief minister Siddaramaiah’s older son. Ahead of the polls, Reddy had stated that Siddaramaiah was punished for the action taken against him for illegal mining.
In the run-up to the November 3 bypolls, Devegowda had stated that the verdict in the bypolls would influence the outcome in polls to be held shortly in five states. “If the JD (S)-Congress alliance wins the five seats in the Karnataka bypolls, it will send an indication to the whole of the country. If we win then it will be a message to states going to the polls in the next few months,’’ he had said.
Former CM and chairman of the coalition coordination committee Siddaramaiah said that the coalition victory was a Diwali gift. “The results are a Diwali gift to the Congress and JD (S) from the people of Karnataka. In Shimoga also, we have done well. In 2014, Yeddyurappa won by a margin of over three lakh votes and this time the BJP has won by only 50,000 votes. This means people are opposed to the BJP and Narendra Modi. There is a strong wave.”
Other than Ugrappa, JD (S) candidate L R Shivaramegowda won the Mandya parliament seat by a margin of 3.25 lakh votes over his BJP rival Dr Siddaramaiah.
Kumaraswamy’s wife Anitha won the Ramnagaram seat with 85 per cent of the votes cast after the BJP candidate L Chandrashekhar defected to the Congress on the eve of the polls. In Jamkhandi, Anand, the son of Siddu Nyamagouda, defeated his BJP rival Shrikant Kulkarni, by 39,480 votes.