Karnataka: In bypolls today, can BJP stave off united Opposition?

Bengaluru: A 4-1 morale-boosting win or a 3-2  status quo?  That's the big question many Congress leaders are asking themselves as the ruling JD(S)-Congress coalition  faces the first major poll battle on Saturday after it came to power in May this year, upsetting BJP calculations.

According to a Congress internal survey, of the five constituencies going to polls-three Lok Sabha and two Assembly seats-there is not much the BJP can do to deprive the coalition of a victory in Ramanagara or Mandya for that matter. The CM's wife Anitha Kumaraswamy seems to have won Ramanagara even before the first vote is cast after the shocking withdrawal of the BJP candidate L. Chandrasekhar on Thursday.  

Ramanagara, Mandya and Jamkhandi were won by coalition candidates in the previous poll while Ballari and Shivamogga went the BJP way.

As for the Mandya Lok Sabha seat, the coalition has a clear edge in a Vokkaliga dominated belt where traditional rivals like D.K. Shivakumar, H.D. Deve Gowda and son H.D. Kumaraswamy have joined hands  to make sure JD(S) candidate L.R. Shivaramegowda suffers no hiccups on his way to victory.

The initial murmurs of dissent in the Congress camp over the seat being given to the JD(S) have been silenced with the coalition now presenting a united front.  
That leaves the Ballari and Shivamogga LS and Jamkhandi Assembly seats where Congressmen are expecting a photo finish. Speaking to DC, a Congress leader from Ballari admitted that the party is still unable to gauge the people's mood in the constituency with both Congress candidate V. S. Ugrappa and BJP leader J. Shanta  riding high on hope. “Ms Shanta's prospects revolve around her  brother and BJP strongman B. Sriramulu's image and the Nayaka vote chunk he can secure for her. Ugrappa too is a Nayaka but he will have to garner the community's votes on his own as he is not getting enough support from other Nayaka leaders," said a source.  

What could come as an unexpected blessing for Ugrappa is the unsavoury remark made by the BJP's Gali Janardhan Reddy that former CM Siddaramaiah's son died because of his 'sins' which has not gone down well with voters especially among the backward classes. "It is difficult to predict the outcome in this constituency," a source said. Wresting Shivamogga, considered a BJP and Sangh parivar stronghold is none too easy for JD(S) candidate Madhu Bangarappa but  sources contend that this is the best chance the coalition has in a constituency where the BJP's vote bank - comprising Arebhashe Vokkaligas, Lingayats and Brahmins- has remained intact for the last 15 years. “The OBC-Dalit-Minority vote bank of the Congress has become vulnerable due to caste complexities but a tough fight is on between Bangarappa and Yeddyurappa families which could go down to the wire,” the source said. Jamkhandi should be an easy win for Congress candidate Anand Nyamegouda but his success depends on the Congress's ability to ensure BJP remains a divided house in a Lingayat stronghold. The return of BJP rebel Sangamesh Nirani who secured 25,000 votes in the last poll, to the party fold, has sent jitters through the coalition camp.  

“After the Ramanagara fiasco, the BJP central leadership is keeping a close watch on their leaders in all constituencies, so dividing them could be difficult. We have sympathy in our favour (the Congress candidate is the son of the former MLA who died in an accident) but  we will have to wait and watch if that is enough to see our candidate through,” a source asserted.

BJP petitions poll panel
Stung by the retirement of its Ramanagara Assembly candidate L.
Chandrashekar from the poll fray on Thursday in favour of JD(S) candidate Anitha Kumaraswamy, the state BJP has petitioned the Chief Electoral Officer of Karnataka to annul the Ramanagara Assembly bypoll.  

They have also demanded the booking of a case against Mr Chandrashekar for 'taking a bribe from the Congress,' the coalition partner of the JD(S), to retire. The BJP leaders argued that Mr Chandrashekar's decision has defeated the democratic process in the constituency where polling was to be held on Saturday where the BJP and JD(S) are the main contenders.
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