Karnataka CM Basavaraj Bommai hails from the Haveri district and his constituency of Shiggaon borders Hangal, making this a test of his personal winnability in the region.

File photo of Basavaraj Bommai
news Politics Wednesday, November 03, 2021 - 08:46

With the BJP in a comfortable majority in the Assembly, the bye-elections to the two seats in north Karnataka — Sindagi and Hangal — hold no sway over the government. The outcome, however, is seen as the new Chief Minister’s first electoral test of his leadership, especially in Hangal constituency, which is in Basavaraj Bommai’s home district of Haveri. Incidentally, BJP's loss in Hangal on Tuesday, November 2, relegated Bommai’s status in the party as Yediyurappa’s replacement.

The bye-election was necessitated following the death of the six-time BJP legislator CM Udasi. The state unit decided to not field anyone from Udasi’s family. This not just caused heartburn for the family but also cost the party sympathy from the voters. Bommai, however, navigated this obstacle by holding a meeting at Udasi’s residence, sending a strong message that the family is still with the party and is respected.

While neither the BJP nor the Congress candidates, Shivaraj Sajjan and Srinivas Mane respectively, hail from Hangal constituency, for Bommai, this was personal. He hails from the Haveri district and his constituency of Shiggaon borders Hangal, making this a test of his personal winnability in the region.

CM Bommai stayed in Hangal for over 10 days, campaigning. He brought in almost a dozen of his Cabinet colleagues and senior leaders to camp in the constituency, which sparked criticisms. Congress President DK Shivakumar said that the state secretariat Vidhana Soudha has been closed down, what with all ministers busy campaigning.

Many senior BJP leaders still perceive Bommai as a stop-gap CM, as they continue to be dependent on Yediyurappa and are waiting for their own elevation ahead of the 2023 Karnataka Assembly elections. The bye-election was Bommai’s one chance to put these apprehensions to rest. But the BJP and Bommai’s dependence on Yediyurappa continued.

The party leveraged its tallest leader thus far in the state, BS Yediyurappa, to the maximum extent. One of the party in-charges was Yediyurappa’s son BY Vijayendra. Yediyurappa, too, campaigned extensively ahead of the bye-election and the party even extended his campaign schedule.

In the Hangal constituency, voters from the Lingayat community — to which both Yediyurappa and Bommai belong —  were in majority. But voters from the Muslim and Kuruba community (to which Congress leader Siddaramaiah belongs) are also in significant numbers there. Congress party’s victory in the Hangal bye-election is being read by many political observers as a consolidation of the AHINDA — an acronym for the Kannada words Alpasankhyataru (Minorities), Hindulidavaru (Backward Classes) and Dalitaru (Dalits) — vote bank by Siddaramaiah.

Even as the power struggle within Congress continues, Siddaramaiah has been seen as leading the party’s campaign in Hangal and the win will further bolster his image. Their candidate, Srinivas Mane, was Siddaramiah’s choice and got the full backing of the former CM during the campaign. He eventually evolved from a dark horse to a front runner. Mane’s work in the constituency during the pandemic has earned him the goodwill of the residents in the Hangal seat. Winning in bye-elections when the BJP is in power in Karnataka will reinforce Congress’ confidence, even if it makes no difference in the Assembly currently.

While CM Bommai graciously credited the Congress candidate for his work in the last three years and during the pandemic, his fight to be seen as Yediyurappa’s successor — not just in government but in the party too — will get steeper.