Karnataka bypolls: In Nanjangud and Gundlupet, Congress and BJP throw down gauntlet

Shubham Ghosh

After winning the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh single-handedly, the BJP will now aim at Karnataka, the last big state in the country that's ruled by the Congress. But before the state goes to the Assembly elections in 2018, two important bypolls will be held on April 9, 2017, and the results in those two elections could be an indicator to the next year's big battle.

Nanjangud is a challenge for both Congress and BJP

The Nanjangud bypoll was necessitated by the resignation of Srinivas Prasad, a popular Dalit face in the state, who left the Congress and joined the BJP in January after Chief Minister Siddaramaiah dropped him from his cabinet unceremoniously last year. Prasad's subsequent remarks made it clear that he was out to teach the "arrogant" Siddaramaiah a lesson. He will contest the bypoll on the BJP's ticket. 

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Prasad's presence in the opposition ranks will undoubtedly give a tough challenge to Siddaramaiah and that too, in the Mysuru region to which he himself belongs.

Siddaramaiah is said to have sidelined Prasad, with whom he hasn't worked much thanks to their changing parties in the past, in order to back HC Mahadevappa and his son Sunil Bose. Hwoever, eventually the Congress went ahead with Kalale Keshavmurthy, a loyalist of former minister DT Jayakumar who was an MLA from Nanjangud. Keshavamurthy is believed to have a strong hold on the constituency and could fight a close contest with Prasad. 

Nanjangud's significance lies in the fact that the population here comprises both Dalits and Lingayats, both electorally key communities in Karnataka's politics. And that makes the BJP a crucial player in the bypoll this time.

BS Yeddyurappa

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BJP's test lies in blending Dalit and Lingayat votes in Nanjangud

With just a year to go for the current Congress government's rule in the state, the BJP will do whatever it takes to bring a balance between the Dalit and Lingayat factor in its ranks to ensure Congress' defeat.

The presence of Prasad and BS Yeddyurappa, the former chief minister and current state BJP chief who is considered the tallest Lingayat leader in the state, in the party can be seen as a great advantage for it in this bypoll. However, it will also be interesting to see whether voters from these two communities on the ground also gel together in the election and back the BJP en masse.

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In 1993, the Lingayats and Dalits had clashed at Badanavalu in Nanjangud taluk over the rejuvenation of a temple, and that could still play in the minds of the local voters. Will the Dalits support the BJP, which is considered a pro-Lingayat party? Will the Lingayats give unconditional support to Dalit candidate Prasad?

Can BSY do a Mayawati in Karnataka?

Such amalgamation of groups that are located on two sides of the social spectrum is, however, not unprecedented.

In Uttar Pradesh, Bahujan Samaj Party supremo and former chief minister Mayawati had brought together the Brahmins and Dalits to win single majority in 2007. Can the BJP do a BSP in Nanjangud bypoll? Yeddyurappa will be crucial for the BJP in this mission. His work could be made easier by Prasad's exit from the Congress as a protest against 'humiliation' and the sliding popularity of Siddaramaiah.

Congress is banking on the sympathy factor in Gundlupet

In Gundlupet, the Congress has a comparatively easier battle to fight, and will look to capitalise on the sympathy wave generated by the death of the five-time MLA from the seat – HS Mahadeva Prasad – who was a leader with a huge popularity.

The Congress fielded his widow Geetha to tap on the sympathy – a ploy that the party has mastered over decades – with Chief Minister Siddaramaiah promising her all possible support.

The BJP will hope to snatch this seat from the Congress by banking on Geetha's inexperience in politics. The saffron party is hoping that Yeddyurappa would work the magic here as well. They have fielded Niranjan Kumar, who is close to the former chief minister and contested the 2013 Assembly election on the ticket of Karnataka Janata Paksha, the party which BSY had floated after quitting the BJP.

Siddaramaiah has a lot at stake in these two bypolls. They are a sort of referendum on his rule, especially when the country is being swept by the BJP. The saffron party also has its share of challenges in the state.

Yeddyurappa would also invite former Congress chief minister of the state SM Krishna, who recently joined the BJP,  to campaign for the two bypolls, which suggests how desperate the party is to overcome those internal problems and win the two seats. April 9 promises two thrilling contests, the result of which could mark a new turn in the state's politics.

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