The stakes are high for the Congress and the BJP in the state of Karnataka as 15 assembly seats go to poll in the December 5 by-elections. The beleaguered opposition Congress in Karnataka faces an uphill task in retaining its assembly seats in the forthcoming by-elections, as it faces an upbeat ruling BJP and an estranged Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) ally at the hustings.
"The task is cut out for the Congress to retain 12 of the 15 poll-bound assembly seats in the state that fell vacant, as it faces 11 of its former rebels as BJP candidates in their strongholds in triangular contests where secular votes will get divided between the two former allies," a political analyst told IANS ahead of the crucial by-elections.
The JD-S factor and the Supreme Court ruling
The JD-S is also bracing to retain the 3 assembly seats from where its rebel lawmakers resigned and joined the BJP to contest and win to maintain their hold in the constituencies, including two in the old Mysuru region and one in Bengaluru.
Though the Supreme Court on November 13 upheld the former speaker's order disqualifying all the 17 legislators, including 14 from Congress and three from JD-S, it allowed them to contest in the by-polls, much to the chagrin of the two opposition parties, which was hoping to retain them without facing the powerful defectors.
"The apex court's decision to allow the defectors to contest in the by-elections by quashing the speaker's order of preventing them from contesting till the 5-year assembly term ended in 2023 has upset the Congress more than the JD-S, as it may not be able to retain many of the seats in the absence of strong candidates who can take on the defectors and the ruling party's enviable poll machinery," asserted the analyst.
Unhappy with the floundering 14-month-old JD-S-Congress coalition government and giving up hopes of becoming ministers or sharing the spoils, the defectors resigned from their assembly seats in mid-July and stayed away from the House on the crucial day when former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy lost the trust-vote on July 23 and resigned on the same night.
"A fractured verdict in the May 2018 assembly elections forced us to tie-up with the JD-S and form the coalition government solely to keep the BJP out of power, as it fell short of 8-9 seats in the 225-member house for simple majority, with 113 as the halfway mark. The resignations of the 17 former lawmakers enabled the BJP to wrest power from us with only 105 legislators," Congress leader V. S. Ugrappa lamented.
The Numbers Game
The Congress had won 80 and the JD-S 37 in the assembly polls last year, with the remaining one each by an independent, a regional outfit (KPJP) and one nominated.
The humiliating defeat of the former coalition allies in the recent Lok Sabha elections in which they retained only one seat each while the BJP won a record 25 of the 28 parliamentary constituencies emboldened the former Congress and JD-S rebels to quit their assembly seats and caused the fall of the coalition government, as they did not find prospects of becoming ministers or getting adequate funds for the development of their assembly constituencies.
"The disastrous Lok Sabha results have proved that the pre-poll alliance between the former ruling allies and fielding of joint candidates to avoid division of votes backfired and benefitted the BJP instead," admitted Ugrappa.
With the BJP going all out to win 8-10 of the 15 seats to have a simple majority by fielding 13 defectors in the fray, the Congress worked overtime in selecting eight candidates on October 31, six on November 16 and one (P. Nagaraj) on Sunday night for the Yeshwanthapura assembly segment.
"As the apex court upheld the disqualification of the defectors for defying the party whip and betraying the electorate for voting them in the May 2018 assembly elections, we are asking the voters to punish them for disrespecting their mandate," asserted Ugrappa.
The Candidates and the turncoats
The Congress candidates are G.B. Mangasuli (Athani), B.A. Kage (Kagwad), Lakhan Jarkiholi (Gokak), Venkatrao Ghorpade (Vijayanagara), Rizwan Arshad (Shivajinagara) and K.B. Chandrashekar (K.R. Pet)., Bhimmanna Naik (Yellapur), B.H. Bannikod (Hirekerur), K.B. Koliwad (Rannebennur), M. Anjanappa (Chikkaballapur), M. Narayanswamy (K.R. Pura), M. Shivaraj (Mahalakshmi Layout), Padmavathi Suresh (Hoskote) and H.P. Manjunath (Hunsur).
Of the 15 seats, seven are in the state's northwest and central regions, five in Bengaluru, two in old Mysuru region and one in Chikkaballapur.
The party has also fielded one woman -- Padamavathy from Hoskote against three-time legislator and former minister M.T.B. Nagaraj of the BJP, the richest candidate in the state, with a whopping Rs 1,223 crore worth assets declared in his nomination affidavit.
Besides Nagaraj, the Congress also faces strong BJP contenders such as T. Sudhakar (Chikkaballapur), Ramesh Jorkiholi (Gokak), Anand Singh (Vijayanagara), Shivaram Hebbar (Yellapur) and B.C. Patil (Hirekeruru).
The 14 disqualified rebels expelled from the Congress are: Mahesh Kumatahalli, Srimanth B. Patil, Ramesh Jarkiholi, Pratap Gouda Patil, Shivaram Hebbar, B.C. Patil, R. Shankar, Anand Singh, K. Sudhakar, B.A. Basavaraj, S.T. Somashekar, Munirathna, R. Roshan Baig and M.T.B. Nagaraj.
The three disqualified rebels expelled from the JD-S are A.H. Vishwanath, K.C. Naryana Gowda and K. Gopalaiah.
The bye-elections will be held in Athani, Kagwad, Gokak, Yellapura, Hirekerur, Ranibennur, Vijaynagara, Chickballapura, K.R. Pura, Yeshwanthpura, Mahalakshmi Layout, Shivajinagara, Hosakote, K.R. Pete and Hunsur.
By-polls in Muski (Raichur district) and R.R. Nagar (Bengaluru southwest) have been withheld due to litigation in the Karnataka High Court over their results in the May 2018 assembly elections.
The vote count is on December 9.
After the by-polls, in the 223-member assembly, the BJP will require the halfway mark of 112 for a simple majority, which is 7 more than 105 it has, including speaker to survive the trial of strength.
(With inputs from IANS)