There are bye-polls slated for two constituencies – Nanjangud and Gundlupet – in Karnataka’s Mysuru district. These elections have all the Congress and BJP heavy weights campaigning for their candidates. Although 14 candidates are contesting from Nanjangud and nine from Gundlupet, these elections are clearly a Congress vs BJP battle.
The bye-polls are important to both the national parties as they will be an indication of how voters will swing in the 2018 Assembly elections.
Both Nanjangud and Gundlupet have been bastions of the Congress party and a win for the BJP would mean that the saffron party has finally managed to break into the Dalit and minorities vote bank - called the Ahinda vote bank.
From poaching candidates to political mudslinging, allegations of buying votes to playing the caste card, the election campaign has been action packed.
The Nanjangud battle
The Nanjangud constituency fell vacant after Srinivas Prasad resigned as MLA. Prasad was a member of the Siddaramaiah Cabinet, but was dropped in 2016. Upset with this turn of events, he resigned from his post and defected to the BJP.
Candidate: V Srinivas Prasad
Party: Bharatiya Janata Party
Assets: Rs 3,55,13,000
A five-time Lok Sabha member from the Chamarajanagar constituency, V Srinivas Prasad has a large following of Dalits in the region.
Prasad’s political career had a rough start when he lost the election as an independent candidate from Krishnaraja Assembly constituency in the 1970s. But soon, he got a Congress ticket, and won the election from the Chamarajanagar constituency in 1980.
He pulled of a hattrick in the elections that followed, but he had to take a break during the fourth election as Janata Dal candidate Siddaraju won the 1996 polls. Prasad had quit the Congress then, and had severely criticised the then Prime Minister, PV Narasimha Rao.
He bounced back into politics after he won the elections from the Chamarajanagar constituency in 1999 with the Janata Dal ticket, and was also the Minister of Food and Consumer Affairs in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Cabinet.
In 2004, he went into political hibernation and in the post-2004 Assembly election scenario, he associated himself with Janata Dal (Secular) but he late defected to the Congress and has won the elections from Nanjangud constituency twice – in 2008 and 2013.
He went on to become the Revenue Minister in the Siddaramaiah Cabinet, but was dropped from his post during the 2016 cabinet reshuffle. Miffed by this move, Prasad resigned from the Congress and also as an MLA in December 2016, and later joined the BJP on January 2.
The Dalit leader has a strong following in the entire Mysuru-Chamarajanagar belt. As a BJP candidate, he brings to the saffron party Dalit votes, which gives the BJP the potential to break into one of Congress’ bastions.
The BJP, which already has the Lingayat, Brahmin and Jain vote banks in its pocket, is hoping for an Uttar Pradesh-style win in the two constituencies as well. As Prasad brings in the Dalit votes, the BJP has a high chance of swinging it in Nanjangud.
Candidate: Kalale Keshavamurthy
Assets: RS 37,13,000
Although the former JD(S) leader’s political career is not as long as V Srinivas Prasad’s, Kalale Keshavamurthy has a popular Dalit following in Nanjangud.
The former JD(S) candidate, who had contested from a JD(S) ticket from Nanjangud in 2008 and 2013, lost both elections to Srinivas Prasad. In both elections, he lost by a thin margin - in 2013 in fact, his margin of loss was just 8,000 votes.
However, the Congress leader is banking on his “neighbourhood man” image to gather the votes of the Dalits in Nanjangud this time around.
Keshavamurthy is a well known face in the 180 villages of Nanjangud and the senior leader, unlike Srinivas Prasad, does not have to resort to door-to-door campaigning. Keshavamurthy is known across Nanjangud to offer his help to the people at any given point of time.
His easy access to the public has made him extremely popular, and the Congress has fielded his simplicity factor as a campaign strategy.
In Gundlupet, it’s Sympathy vs anti-incumbency
The Gundlupet constituency seat was emptied after former MLA Mahadev Prasad died on January 3. The constituency, which has been a Congress stronghold since 1952, is now facing an uncertainty as none of Gundlupet’s well known faces are alive.
Candidate: Geeta Mahadev Prasad
Assets: Rs 2,86,00,000
Geeta Mahadev Prasad is the widow of the former MLA Mahadev Prasad. The late Congress leader was a five-time MLA and was an extremely popular face in Gundlupet.
Although the constituency has 81,000 Lingayat voters, Mahadev Prasad, being a Dalit leader, had managed to swing the Lingayat votes as well.
His widow Geeta is no pushover. With a doctorate in political science, Geeta Mahadev Prasad is a writer, poet and also well known for her charitable work in Gundlupet.
She has published her doctoral thesis and also brought out three anthologies of poems—'The Interior' (English) and 'Nivedane' and 'Taayigagi' (Kannada).
Although she has never contested an election before and she has no experience in the political playing field, Geeta Mahadev Prasad is seen as a person with a sound mind, who is competent enough to represent the issues of the constituency. Known as a “simpleton scholar”, she is seen as one who has the potential to present her views in the Assembly.
The death of Gundlupet’s darling leader, Mahadev Prasad has had the Congress lapping up the sympathy factor by fielding Geeta as its candidate.
The late Mahadev Prasad was known to fulfil his electoral promises and Geeta Mahadev Prasad is using this as a strategy to play at the voters’ heart strings.
“My husband has always fulfilled the promises he made during every election. This time he could not as he passed away. If I am elected as your leader, I will take forward my husband’s legacy,” Geeta said in one of her campaign rallies.
Candidate: CS Niranjan Kumar
Party: Bharatiya Janata Party
Assets: Rs 1,11,50,000
Son of former Congress leader K Shivamallappa, Niranjan Kumar has lost two consecutive elections in the Gundlupet constituency.
His family, which is one of the richest in Gundlupet, had hit it big by investing in real estate. Niranjan Kumar is a 35-year-old businessman and is a popular face in Gundlupet, but his image is not as strong as the late Mahadev Prasad.
Niranjan’s father, Shivamallappa, who was a Congress leader, had lost the elections in 1994 and 1999 to Mahadev Prasad, who was in the JD(S) at the time.
Later in 2008, Niranjan Kumar had contested against Mahadev Prasad, who had defected to the Congress, and had lost by a margin of 7,000 votes. Subsequently in 2013, when the BJP had split, Niranjan had contested from a Karnataka Janata Party ticket and had again lost to Mahadev Prasad by a margin of 2,000 votes.
The Gundlupet constituency has only ever been represented by three leaders since 1952. In that year Shivarudrappa, an independent candidate had won the polls. However, from 1957 onwards, KS Nagarathnamma, won seven consecutive elections with Congress tickets, and was also the Speaker of the Karnataka Assembly in 1972.
After Nagarathnamma’s stint, Mahadev Prasad won five elections and the constituency has been a Congress bastion for decades.
Neither Niranjan Kumar, nor his father were able to gather the support of the people but the 35-year-old leader is banking on the anti-incumbency card to win this time.