The ruling Congress-JDS combine in Karnataka will face its first major political test since forging an alliance five months ago in the bypolls to three Lok Sabha seats and two state Assembly seats on Saturday.
The bypolls — widely viewed as a test of the strength and endurability of the Congress-JDS alliance going into the 2019 Lok Sabha polls — sees the ruling combine pitted in a two-way battle against the opposition BJP across all the five constituencies.
“If the Congress-JDS alliance wins all five seats, it will send an indication to the whole country. It will be a message to all the states going to the polls in the next few months,” former prime minister and JDS president H D Deve Gowda said.
Initially unenthused by the prospects of the bypolls, the Congress, JDS and BJP have taken the byelections seriously in the past couple of weeks with the JDS in particular going the extra mile to win them and preserve the coalition government. Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy has also called the bypolls a semi-final for the coalition before the final parliamentary polls next year.
The BJP, which senses an opportunity of cornering the coalition in the event of the alliance faring poorly in the bypolls, stands a chance to win two of the three parliament seats and one of the two Assembly seats going to the polls on November 3. The personal prestige of two BJP leaders — the state chief and former CM B S Yeddyurappa and Ballari leader B Sreeramulu — is also at stake.
Among the most closely-watched constituencies in the bypolls is Shimoga, where Yeddyurappa is fielding his son B Y Raghavendra against Congress-JDS candidate Madhur Bangarappa, who is the son of former Congress CM S Bangarappa.
While Yeddyurappa has dominated the constituency for nearly two decades, the Congress-JDS combine has joined forces and recalled the legacy of Bangarappa in an attempt to break the BJP chief’s grip over the constituency.
In Ballari, where BJP leader B Sreeramulu’s sister and former MP J Shantha is fighting the Congress’s V S Ugrappa, is also set to witness a close battle with the Congress keen to wrest the constituency, which has been in the grip of the BJP since 2004.
Mandya, the third parliament constituency going to the polls on Saturday, is likely to see JDS candidate L R Shivarame Gowda emerge without much competition on account of Congress not fielding a candidate and the BJP yet to gain significant political traction in the region.
The Lok Sabha bypolls in Karnataka were necessitated by the resignation of Yeddyurappa, Sreeramulu and C S Puttaraju, a JDS MP, after they were elected to the Assembly in May.
Among the two Assembly seats where the bypolls will be held, the JDS has obtained a virtual walkover in Ramanagaram, where the JDS has fielded the CM’s wife Anitha Kumaraswamy. BJP candidate L Chandrashekhar has announced that he will be support her candidature after joining Congress on November 1.
The BJP on Thursday filed a petition before the Election Commission seeking a deference of the poll in Ramanagaram in light of the defection of its candidate. The bypoll follows Kumaraswamy’s resignation from the seat after being elected from two constituencies in May.
The Jamkhandi assembly seat will see Anand Nyamagouda, the son of former Congress MLA Siddu Nyamagouda, pitted against the BJP’s two-term former legislator Srikanth Kulkarni. The Jamkhandi bypoll was necessitated by Siddu Nyamagouda’s death in a car crash a few months ago.
“The BJP has been winning polls because of division of secular votes. We have to fight together,” former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah said.