Bypolls, a high-stakes battle for Siddaramaiah, Yeddyurappa

Bypolls, a high-stakes battle for Siddaramaiah, Yeddyurappa

Bypolls, a high-stakes battle for Siddaramaiah, Yeddyurappa

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and BJP state President B S Yeddyurappa are literally sweating it out to ensure victory for their candidates in the bypolls to Nanjungud and Gundlupet Assembly constituencies. The results are bound to give a psychological edge to the party that emerges victorious. The results are also going to set the momentum for the Assembly polls to be held next year.

Siddaramaiah has often said the results would not set the tone for the 2018 polls. Saying so, he has attached so much importance to the bypolls that he has diverted almost all his ministerial colleagues to campaign for the party candidates. Whatever he may argue, the bypolls are seen as a litmus test not only of the government’s popularity, but also Siddaramaiah’s credentials as Ahinda (Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits) leader.

The results will show whether the BJP’s influence is on the upswing, as claimed by it of late, and whether Yeddyurappa continues to hold sway over the dominant Lingayat community.

The results will also indicate whether the BJP has been able to wean away traditional voters of the Congress and the JD(S). During the last four years, Siddaramaiah has invested a lot of energy and resources to consolidate the support of Ahinda communities and, the Congress’ victory in both Nanjangud (SC reserved) and Gundlupet, it appears, depends much on these communities. Siddaramaiah now wants Dalits to come to his rescue, while the Nanjangud BJP candidate V Srinivas Prasad is expecting the community to stand by him and has even invoked Dalit pride for this purpose. He has made Siddaramaiah’s decision to drop him from the state Cabinet last year a major poll plank.

Political observers are of the view that while the Congress is unlikely to get the solid backing of upper castes, including Lingayats and Vokkaligas, in Nanjangud, Dalit votes may get divided between Prasad and Congress’ Kalale Keshavamurthy, who crossed over to the Congress from the JD(S) recently. The Congress can gain an edge over BJP only if the Ahinda factor works in its favour – minorities and other backward classes together form a major vote block.

Yeddyurappa, for his part, has been playing the Lingayat card to win over the support of his community voters. The thinking is that the support of Dalits and Lingayats can swing the election in the saffron party’s favour. The BJP is leaving no stone unturned to win the Nanjangud seat as it would enable the party to consolidate the support of Dalit voters across the old Mysuru region. Nanjangud has, therefore, turned into a high-stakes battle for Siddaramaiah and Yeddyurappa.

While Dalits form the largest community in Nanjangud, followed by Lingayats, it is vice versa in the neighbouring Gundlupet. Mohan Kumari, wife of the late Mahadeva Prasad is the Congress candidate. The BJP has fielded C S Niranjan Kumar, who had unsuccessfully contested twice from the seat in the past. Gundlupet has remained the fiefdom of the Lingayat community. All the MLAs who have represented the constituency since 1957 are Lingayats. And the candidates of both the national parties belong to the same community.

The Congress is banking mainly on the sympathy factor to retain the seat. Gundlupet has been the bastion of the Congress. But BJP is giving a tough fight. Both the parties have been wooing voters belonging to all other communities, especially Dalits, Vokkaligas and other backward classes as Lingayat votes are likely to get divided.

Politics of drought
This apart, severe drought in both the constituencies has resulted in acute scarcity of drinking water. Majority of borewells have gone dry. The BJP has been blaming the ruling party for the water problem. The Congress has been trying to defend itself by saying that drought has affected the entire state. The Congress has blamed Srinivas Prasad for not doing enough for the development of Nanjangud. The JD(S) has kept off the contest in both the constituencies, making it a direct contest between the Congress and the BJP. With the two parties involved in a neck and neck battle, the byelections are too close a call.