In what is likely to be the biggest upset this bye-poll season, Congress’ VS Ugrappa is heading for a massive victory against BJP’s J Shantha, sister of Molakalmuru MLA Sriramulu in his own backyard of Ballari. Ugrappa, an aide of former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah won by a margin of over 2, 40,000 votes at the end of counting.
The bye-elections in Ballari was necessitated after Sriramulu resigned as MP and contested successfully from the Molakalmuru Assembly segment in May. J Shantha had previoutsly won the seat in 2009. The BJP was banking on Sriramulu’s influence in the region for an easy victory.
The Ballari bye-election had turned into a bitter battle between the BJP and Congress in the run up to polling day on November 3 with leaders of both parties campaigning aggressively. The Congress had brought out its big guns and had several of its top leaders campaigning for its candidate. The Congress’s decision to make every notable leader campaign in Ballari seems to have paid off. The party’s Leader in Lok Sabha Malikarjun Kharge had also campaigned for Ugrappa in its effort to upset the BJP in its stronghold ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Amid high drama and heavy campaigning, Ballari had become the centre for a political proxy war between the strategists of the BJP and Congress – B Sriramulu and DK Shivakumar respectively. The Congress had chosen its master strategist and senior minister DK Shivakumar, the district-in-charge, to lead the campaign in Ballari against BJP’s tribal face Sriramulu, the right-hand man of tainted mining baron Janardhana Reddy, in the Ballari Lok Sabha bye-poll. However, with infighting brewiing between Shivakumar and the Jarkiholi brothers, former CM Siddaramaiah was asked to step in by the Congress High Command to lead the campaign for Ugrappa.
Ugrappa, an 'outsider' who hails from Mysuru, was considered a second favourite since the Congress decided to name him as their candidate. As part of the coalition arrangement between the Congress and the JD(S), the former was given the choice of fielding its candidate. However, Ugrappa was not a natural choice and was more of a benefactor of circumstances.
Ugrappa belongs to the Valmiki community, and the Ballari seat is reserved for STs. This was another important reason why he made the cut.
Ugrappa is not the only Congress outsider to win the seat. Former Congress President Sonia Gandhi had won the seat in 1999, beating present External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
As things stand, out of the bye-elections in five seats, the BJP is only leading in Shimoga with former CM BS Yeddyurappa’s son BY Raghavendra leading against JD(S) candidate Madhu Bangarappa.
Taking to Twitter, Siddaramaiah stated, “This is a meaningful Diwali for the people of Ballari. Ballari people has cursed Janardhana Reddy for his inhuman behaviour.” The former CM was referring to the Janardhana Reddy’s controversial statement ahead of the elections. He had then stated that the death of Siddaramaiah’s elder son Rakesh was a punishment from god.
Stating that the party high command decided to go with Ugrappa because they trusted his word, DK Shivakumar said that when it comes to elections, he would ensure that his partymen contest bravely.
"People have given us a chance. They've seen the BJP in the Parliament from the constituency for many years. They've seen the BJP govt for some years now. They've seen the BJP govt in coalition in the state. Now, they want change,” DK Shivakumar said, following the victory.
Conceding defeat, BJP state chief and former CM BS Yeddyurappa said the party would introspect the defeat especially in Ballari and Jamakhandi. He also denied any connection between the defeat in Ballari and Janardhana Reddy's statement.