The 17 April bypolls in Karnataka, for the prestigious Belagavi Lok Sabha seat and the Assembly constituencies of Maski and Basavakalyan, have come as a test for the beleaguered chief minister, BS Yediyurappa.
He is under tremendous pressure, troubled as he is by the sex tapes allegedly involving his former water resources minister Ramesh Jarkiholi. Opposition Congress is only waiting for the opportunity to embarrass him in the polls.
In addition, there were the recent rallies by different sections for increased quotas, particularly, the Panchamshalis ~ a sub sect of the Lingayat community which threatened his hitherto unchallenged dominance over it.
Under the circumstances, Yediyurappa could find himself facing a tough battle with the Opposition Congress in particular, even as he would seek to prove that he remains in charge.
Especially, considering the growing factionalism in the ruling party as well, over 17 lakh voters are likely to exercise their choice in these polls.
The chief minister is also desperately hoping for a repeat of the bypoll results of December 2019 when his party won 12 of the 15 Assembly constituencies which had then helped in propping up his four -month-old government.
This was immediately after Ramesh Jarkiholi, then a Congress minister in the JD(S)- Congress coalition, had switched sides along with 16 legislators. It is that morale booster Yediyurappa is wishing for now amid the growing factionalism, sex scandal and the quota demands.
To that extent a BJP win in Maski and Basavakalyan Assembly constituencies in Raichur and Bidar districts, respectively, which were held by the Congress, would be seen as a mini verdict of confidence for Yediyurappa.
Even though any negative result is not going to upset his government in terms of numbers, a sweep would definitely help in humiliating the Congress which has been attacking his government in recent days over the sex tapes The Congress, on its part, definitely needs a major win in the by polls to boost the falling morale of its workers and to put one over the BJP.
The icing on the cake for the BJP though would, of course, come if it retains the Belagavi Lok Sabha seat, which fell vacant following the death of Union minister of state for Railways, Suresh Angadi, last September.
While the Congress will try its level best to retain the Maski and Basvakalyan seats, its major fight would be for the Belagavi constituency, dubbed as a high-voltage contest. Not surprising, therefore, to see the party fielding its strongman, Satish Jarkiholi, brother of Ramesh Jarkiholi.
Satish has successfully contested two council and three Assembly seats so far, leading him to even be appointed as the secretary of the All India Congress Committee earlier. Importantly, even though the Jarkiholi brothers represent different parties, their bonding remains strong in addition to their immense clout in the belt.
The BJP, on its part, is banking on Mangala Angadi, the widow of former MP, Suresh Angadi, to help the party retain the Belagavi seat, banking as it is on the sympathy votes that the novice could enlist.
Equally important, the party hopes that the work done by the former railway minister in the constituency would help the party reap rich dividend. Belagavi was a Congress stronghold till before Angadi won his first election in 2004; even setting a record winning the successive Parliamentary polls.
This is not to say that there is no discontent in the BJP as several stalwarts were hoping to get the nomination to fight the Belagavi seat. Nevertheless, the party is banking on the strong worker base it has in the constituency, coupled with the encouraging record of the past. In addition, there is the support from the dominant Lingayat community to which Mangala Angadi belongs.
The Maski Assembly seat, incidentally, had fallen vacant after the Congress legislator P Patil quit the party to join the BJP whose candidate he will be now. For the Basavakalyan seat, the BJP has nominated youth leader Sharanu Salagar, annoying several hopefuls. This seat fell vacant following the death of Congress MLA Narayana Rao.
The Congress is putting up Mallamma, Rao’s widow, as its nominee for Basavakalyan.
In Maski, it has put up Basavanagoud Turvihal, who quit the BJP and joined the Congress recently.
While state home minister Basavaraj Bommai expressed confidence that the BJP would romp home, going by its past record in the byeelections, the Congress is very clear about its strategy. It proposes to use the sex tapes incident and the recent court protection sought by six BJP ministers against any defamatory broadcast or publication, to power its campaign.