On Monday, Karnataka’s Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister TB Jayachandra walked into an Assembly of empty chairs on the Treasury end.

All Karnataka Ministers except one bunk Assembly for bye-poll campaigning heres whyPTI
news Politics Monday, March 27, 2017 - 16:46

The budget session is on in Karnataka, but there are hardly any Ministers in the state Assembly to address the issues that need to be discussed. With the bye-polls in Nanjangud and Gundlupet just around the corner, the Ministers have been roped in by the Congress party for campaigning in these constituencies - and the opposition BJP is not amused.

On Monday, Karnataka’s Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister TB Jayachandra walked into an Assembly of empty chairs on the Treasury end.

Angry BJP leaders expressed their displeasure and questioned Speaker KB Koliwad as to why the Ministers were allowed to be absent from the Vidhana Sabha when there were numerous drought-related issues to discuss.

“The Congress government is focused more on winning the elections rather than making sure that its Ministers perform their duties. How will they gain the people’s trust if they do not do their duty? All the Ministers are busy with road shows and election campaigning in Nanjangud and Gundlupet. Who will discuss the issue of drought? It is the most severe problem our state is facing and the Ministers are not bothered about it,” Leader of Opposition in Vidhana Sabha, Jagadish Shettar told Speaker Koliwad.

Shettar went on to question the Assembly Speaker for letting the Ministers be absent. “I strongly believe that you made the wrong decision by letting the Congress leaders go and campaign for the bye-polls in Nanjangud and Gundlupet. The Chief Minister and KPCC’s orders are not going to solve the crisis in our state. Why are the Ministers not taking the situation seriously?” he asked.

The ruling Congress though has been busy deputing campaigners for the bye-polls slated for April 9. The big guns have been pulled out, and the party’s campaign strategy includes getting all its Ministers on the road to woo the people of Nanjangud and Gundlupet.

Why are the bye-polls are crucial

For both the BJP and the ruling Congress, the bypolls are more than just an election. The bypoll has become a battle of pride, especially for the Congress, as a victory could prove that they still have a hold over its bastion – Mysuru. A win may also ease the path for the 2018 Assembly election.

Hit by several controversies, including the recent row over a diary that allegedly has details of kickbacks paid by Congress leaders in the state to the party high command in Delhi, the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) leaders have pulled out all stops to win the last bye-polls ahead of the 2018 Assembly elections.

“Congress has to be really careful and ensure victory in both constituencies. Each Minister has been put in-charge of one gram panchayat in both the Nanjangud and Gundlupet constituency and the caste factor has been put in place while allotting the Ministers their gram panchayats,” a senior Congress leader said.

The KPCC has also decided to release the caste census data only after the bye-polls, the source said.

“If the data is released earlier, it will only help the BJP and JD(S) strengthen their vote banks as both the rival parties have a strong Vokkaliga and Lingayat presence in these areas,” the source claimed.

For the BJP on the other hand, a victory would mean that the saffron party has finally managed to penetrate a Congress stronghold in a run up to the 2018 polls, by gathering the support of the Dalit vote bank in the region.

The Nanjangud battle

Srinivas Prasad, who resigned from his MLA post in December 2016, defected from the Congress after being dropped from Siddaramaiah’s cabinet in the 2016 reshuffle.

Miffed by the ill-treatment, Srinivas Prasad, who was once a confidante of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, joined the BJP.

As Srinivas Prasad had won the election in 2013 in Nanjangud, the post became vacant. This was a huge blow to the Congress as BJP, which was sure of gathering Lingayat votes, now had a Dalit strongman to represent their interests.

In mid-January, Bose, the son of Public Works Minister, Mahadev Prasad, seemed to be the Congress’ pick for the constituency. Bose, who has no experience in the political playing field seemed like a poor choice.

In February, however, the Congress sidelined Bose. The I-T raids that implicated a Karnataka bureaucrat KC Jayachandra being a close aide of Minister Mahadev Prasad, clubbed with Bose’s inexperience, meant that the Congress could no longer support his political ambitions.

But soon, they found their perfect candidate: Kalale Krishnaswamy, a veteran JD(S) leader, defected to the Congress and was announced as the candidate for Nanjangud.

During the 2013 Assembly polls, Krishnaswamy had lost to Srinivas Prasad by just 8,000 votes, and the Congress believes that if anyone has a chance to beat the man who defected from their side, it is the man who defected to them.

The BJP has both party president Yeddyurappa and Srinivas Prasad campaigning in Nanjangud.

“As Srinivas Prasad is considered anti-Lingayat by many, to ensure that we do not lose our Lingayat vote bank, Yeddyurappa will be campaigning alongside him to ensure that the support of both vote banks fall with the BJP,” a source with knowledge of the BJP campaign said.

“Srinivas Prasad has very strong support in the region and BJP will surely win as the campaign strategy is to bring out all the policy failures that have occurred during the Congress rule,” he added.

The situation in Gundlupet

While Nanjangud is the greatest challenge for the Congress, the party is planning to ride the sympathy wave by fielding the late cabinet Minister, HC Mahadeva Prasad’s wife Dr Geeta Mahadeva Prasad as its candidate.

The Minister, who died in January of a heart ailment, had won five consecutive elections and had a huge following in Gundlupet.

While the Nanjangud bypoll may seem like an easy ride for the BJP, the Gundlupet one is the real challenge. The BJP has fielded Yeddyurappa loyalist Niranjan Kumar as its candidate and Aravind Limbavali and CT Ravi will be campaigning alongside Kumar, while hoping that Dr Geeta’s inexperience will win the BJP the necessary votes to win the bye-poll.

 

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