Prestige issue for Sriramulu, DKS

The ruling Congress and the BJP are making all-out efforts to outsmart each other in the bye-election to the Bellary Rural Assembly constituency which has turned out to be a battle of prestige for both the national parties.

As the polling day draws close (August 21), the constituency had been witnessing a high-decibel campaigns. Mud-slinging, luring local leaders, appeasing the unhappy leaders...both parties have been making efforts to gain the upper hand. While it is a must-win for Chief Minister Siddaramaiah-led Congress, the BJP has to retain the seat in order to prove it is regaining its popularity in the State.

The Congress has fielded four-time MLA N Y Gopalakrishna against the BJP’s Obalesh, a retired first division clerk and a close associate of party MP B Sriramulu. The candidates might be considered as political lightweights, but both parties have entrusted the responsibility of leading the bye-election campaign to their ‘heavyweight’ leaders – Energy Minister D K Shivakumar of the Congress and former minister and BJP MP Sriramulu.

The byelection was necessitated due to the resignation of Sriramulu as the MLA following his election as an MP in the 2014 parliamentary elections. It is the third election for the Bellary Rural constituency in the last three years – 2011, 2013 and 2014.

Sriramulu has been winning the seat ever since it was carved out after delimitation of constituencies in 2008.

In 2011, Sriramulu resigned as MLA after quitting the BJP and won in the bye-election as a candidate of his newly floated political outfit, BSR Congress, with a huge margin of 46,790 votes, emphasising his hold over the constituency. The BJP is confident that Sriramulu’s popularity and the recent victory of the party in the Lok Sabha elections will ensure a smooth sail for its candidate.

However, Sriramulu’s hold appears to be dwindling in the last few years. His victory margin in 2013 Assembly elections came down to 33,000 votes and in 2014 Lok Sabha elections (wherein he contested as the BJP candidate), he managed to secure only about 11,000 votes more compared with the Congress from Bellary Rural constituency. Moreover, a number of local BJP leaders in Bellary are said to be upset with the party for not recognising their services.

Shivakumar, who had been camping in Bellary for the last two weeks, is said to be following “Reddy-like” (jailed former minister Janardhana Reddy) strategy in the bye-election: He has been making efforts to lure leaders and workers of the rival parties. He recently succeeded in bringing former JD(S) MLA Suryanarayana Reddy and a number of BJP workers to the party fold.

He also recently met Karnataka Milk Federation chairman B Somashekara Reddy, who is also the brother of Janardhana Reddy, in an effort to garner his support. Besides, half a dozen ministers had been camping in the constituency and trying to woo the voters.

The Congress, too, is fraught with disgruntled leaders. A majority of the local leaders were against the party giving a ticket to “outsider” Gopalakrishna (he hails from Molakalmuru in Chitradurga district. He has represented Molakalmuru Assembly constituency four times in the past).

And there were 20 aspirants for the party ticket to contest the bypoll. Many of these leaders are said to be not happy with the party’s choice of the candidate. Shivakumar is having a tough task appeasing them. The caste factor is also likely to play an important role in the bypoll.

Muslims form the largest community in the constituency with a population of about 40,000, followed by Valmiki with about 35,000. Both the parties are trying to ingratiate themselves with these communities in the bypoll, which is witnessing a neck-to-neck fight.

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