The outcome of these bye-polls will be a pointer to the leadership credentials of Yediyurappa, DK Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah.

DK Shivakumar, Yediyurappa, Siddaramaiah
news Politics Wednesday, April 07, 2021 - 17:35

This bye-election season in Karnataka, some are attempting to cash in the sympathy votes, while others are hoping that rebellion in their opponent’s home will help them win. The three bye-polls to the Belagavi Lok Sabha seat, the Basavakalyan (Bidar district) and Maski (Raichur district) Assembly constituencies, to be held on April 17, are crucial for the BJP, Congress and the JD(S). The elections are also a test of credibility of Yediyurappa, DK Shivakumar, and Siddaramaiah's leadership. 

The polls in Belagavi and Basavakalyan were necessitated because of the deaths of sitting legislators’ due to COVID-19. The Maski seat has been vacant since 2019, when the then-MLA Pratapgouda Patil defected from the Congress to the BJP along with several of his colleagues, and was disqualified by the Speaker — an order upheld by the Supreme Court. However, while the court also allowed the disqualified MLAs to contest in bye-polls, Maski did not go to polls until now because Pratapgouda’s election in 2018 was contested by runner-up Basannagouda R Turvihal. 

The pending cases were cleared in October 2020 and it was finally announced that the bye-election in Maski will be held along with the West Bengal Assembly election in April 2021.

Interestingly, while Pratapgouda who won in 2018 on a Congress ticket is now in the BJP, Turvihal, who lost in 2018 with the BJP is now with the Congress. And the two leaders will be fighting each other for the seat, once again. 

The BJP after its winning spree since 2019, is on a sticky wicket now. It's facing rebellion in Belagavi and Basavakalyan over its choice of candidates. In Maski, the Congress has reworked its strategy and is putting up a united front — specifically, with former CM Siddaramaiah and strategy prodigy DK Shivakumar campaigning together for their candidate. 

Belagavi

The Belagavi Parliamentary seat has evoked interest this time, because it’s the homeground of sex-for-job and sexual harassment accused former minister Ramesh Jarkiholi. Ramesh Jarkiholi was one of the defectors from the Congress to the BJP, leading to the fall of the Congress-JD(S) government in 2019. And this time around, the Congress is fielding his brother, Satish Jarkiholi, from the Belagavi seat. 

Belagavi is a district of ‘Sahukars’ (chieftains) where families dictate local politics. Owning sugar factories and heading cooperative societies, the families of Jarkiholi, Katti, Koujalgi and Kore have been calling the political shots since running a sugar mill means having a solid vote bank of 20,000 to 25,000, while cooperative societies take care of financial needs of the voters in terms of loans.

A stronghold of the BJP, it was represented by former Union minister Suresh C Angadi since 2004, who died of COVID-19 last year. According to BJP sources, there were nearly 60 aspirants for the seat with 10-12 being serious contenders including minister Jagadish Shettar and party MLC Mahantesh Kavatagimath. Most are young and were spearheading the party's activities for years. But the BJP central leadership's decision to field Angadi's wife Mangala, contrary to the party's line which has been opposing dynasty rule, is said to be a knee jerk reaction to the Congress giving the seat to Satish Jarkiholi. 

“The BJP plans to garner sympathy votes for Mangala, whether it is going to work is doubtful,” a BJP source said. “The party has made Shettar in charge of the campaign but Belagavi is not his political turf and he is not seen as an aggressive campaigner.” Shettar's son is married to Angadi's daughter, whose name was also doing the rounds for the ticket.

In the Congress, recapturing the seat is a challenge for just not Satish Jarkiholi, whose brother is embroiled in the CD controversy, but is a prestige issue for DK Shivakumar and party MLA Laxmi Hebbalkar. Both have a running feud with Ramesh Jarkiholi, who resented Shivakumar's interference in Belagavi politics. 

On caste calculations, the Lingayat and Maratha votes are important for victory, and the BJP had an advantage all these years as both the communities have stood by the party. BJP sources said there would be a shift as the Panchamasali Lingayats are unhappy that the ticket was not given to them, while the Marathas are upset with the government over the reservation quota and the controversy over setting up the Maratha Development Corporation. 

The Maratha voters are prominent in Belagavi North, South and Rural constituencies and stood by the BJP in the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls. The Maharashtra Ekikaran Sami, an umbrella organisation for the Maratha voters, is said to be now favouring the Congress with neighbouring Maharashtra's Shiv Sena's tacit support. The party is also confident of bagging the votes of minorities and scheduled castes (Lambanis) in Saundatti Yellamma and Ramdurg Assembly segments.

Congress sources said fielding Satish Jarkiholi was a trump card as apart from being a good organiser, the Jarkiholi family of five brothers, despite their political affiliations, are said to be united when it comes to sharing of power. Nobody works against each other as the goal is that at least one member of the family should be in power. But alongside Ramesh Jarkiholi, who is with the BJP, Lakhan Jarkiholi, who is with the Congress has also announced that he will back the BJP candidate Mangala Angadi in the bye-elections. 

A win or defeat for Satish Jarkiholi is said to benefit both Shivakumar and Hebbalkar. If Satish Jarkiholi wins, he moves out of state politics, leaving the district free for Hebbalkar, while a defeat would reduce the beleaguered Jarkiholis’ clout in Belagavi and in the Congress state unit, sources said.

Basavakalyan 

Rebellion and polarisation of votes is the hallmark of this constituency, bordering Andhra Pradesh. The Lingayats have been supporting the BJP while the Muslims, other backward classes and scheduled castes have stood by the Congress. Basavakalyan has been a fortress of the Janata Parivar since 1983, but its winning spree was halted in 2018, when Congress’s B Narayanrao won. The JD(S) had fielded senior leader PGR Sindhia in 2018, who joined the Congress recently. 

The Congress has fielded late MLA B Narayanarao's wife Mallamma, a homemaker, to garner sympathy votes. Representing the Kabbaligas or Koli community, who are fisherfolk, the party hopes to encash on their angst as none of their demands have been fulfilled.

While in Belagavi, the BJP workers are upset about the ticket going to the family of Shettar, here the grouse is over giving it to an outsider. The candidate, Sharanu Salagar, a former high school teacher, is from Kalaburagi, and one of the reasons for him getting the ticket is that his wife, a tahsildar, did some good work during the pandemic in the constituency. 

But former BJP MLA and current rebel Mallikarjun Khuba is expected to give Salagar a tough competition. Both candidates are Lingayats, so the votes are likely to split between the two. 

Meanwhile there are allegations that the JD(S) and BJP are working together in Basavakalyan. Former Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy's decision to field a Muslim candidate in the constituency has raised suspicions in political circles that it’s a ploy to help the BJP. “The strategy is more to do with an understanding between Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa and Kumaraswamy than an JDS-BJP understanding,'' a political observer said. Kumaraswamy's tactic of fielding a Muslim — Sayed Yasrab Ali Quadri — is seen as a ploy to divide the Muslim votes, which matter for the candidate's victory. 

Asaduddin Owaisi, who has been trying to get a foothold in other states apart from Telangana, has fielded an AIMIM candidate who is expected to take some votes. The Congress has deputed party MLA Zameer Ahmed Khan to mobilise the minority votes and Sindhia to help in getting the Maratha community's support. 

Maski

Turncoat politics is playing a role in this constituency reserved for Scheduled Tribes. The Congress has given the ticket to Basannagouda R Turvihal, who was the BJP candidate in 2018 polls, while the BJP to Prathagouda Patil. The latter was among the 17 MLAs who brought down the JD(S)-Congress government in 2019. Turvihal had lost to Patil by 213 votes in 2018 and challenged the result in the court.

The BJP is hoping for a repeat of last year’s bye-polls verdict where the disqualified MLAs won. It has deputed party's vice-president BY Vijayendra to oversee the campaign — this will be his third venture after maiden victories in KR Pet and Sira bye-polls.

Congress legislator Prakash K Rathod said his party's selection of candidates has been very good and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar are jointly campaigning this time around. “One of the new strategies in these bye-polls has been that senior party leaders have been put in charge of each gram panchayats in the three constituencies and asked not to come out from there. The youth Congress campaign led by Raksha Ramaiah and Mohammed Haris Nalapad has galvanised the party,'' he added.

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