Karnataka bypoll a test of leadership for both the BJP and Congress

A victory would strengthen CM’s position, a win for the Congress would boost its morale for 2023 polls

BS Yediyurappa, Karnataka
Despite several attempts to destablise him and take control of the party and the government since the BJP came to power in Karnataka in 2019, Yediyurappa continues to wield more power than ever before.

Karnataka is gearing up for by-elections in three constituencies – one Lok Sabha and two assembly segments – on April 17. The contest will be a test of leadership in both the leading national parties, the BJP and Congress.

For Yediyurappa, winning these seats would consolidate his position in the party even as chorus grows to replace him. Besides, he may also silence his critics who complain of the high-handedness of his son BY Vijayendra, BJP’s Karnataka vice-president.

Though the results, to be announced on May 2, will have no immediate effect, a win would boost the morale of the Congress and set the stage for the 2023 assembly elections. The party’s two most senior leaders in the state, DK Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah, campaigned hard this election.

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Also read: Karnataka sex scandal: FIR against Jarkiholi after woman files complaint

By-polls to the Belagavi Lok Sabha seat and the Basavakalyana assembly were necessitated after the incumbents died of COVID. In Maski, the assembly seat in Raichur district, the MLA, Pratapgouda Patil, quit the party to join the BJP. The seat remained vacant after he was disqualified.

The BJP’s Suresh Angadi, then minister of state for railways, held the Belagavi Lok Sabha constituency at the time of his death last year.

The BJP has given ticket to Angadi’s wife Mangala Suresh. The Congress gave it to Satish Jarkiholi, a member of the influential Jarkiholi family in Belagavi. Satish is also the sitting MLA from Yamkanmard. He is the brother of Ramesh Jarkiholi, former BJP minister who resigned after a controversy over charges of sexual harassment and abuse of power.

Also read: Karnataka govt under fire for changing Jarkiholi ‘sex CD’ probe’s terms of reference

Ramesh was one of the defectors from the Congress who joined the BJP. The Jarkiholis, referred to as ‘sahukars’, control the local sugar cooperative societies, and a banking and agriculture businesses in the region. With three brothers in different political parties, they dictate the local politics in the region along with the Kattis and Koujalgis.

One has to wait and watch if fielding Satish will backfire for Congress as the sex scandal has dented the image of the family. A victory would also break the winning streak of the BJP, which has retained the seat since 2004 under the leadership of Angadi.

The Congress has left no stone unturned to campaign against the BJP over inflation, fuel price hike, controversial farm laws, mishandling the COVID crisis, and corruption charges against the CM and his family members. For the BJP, the CM and his ministers relentlessly campaigned for the party candidates and sought votes in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and work done by the Centre.

While there’s a two-way contest in Belagavi and Maski, Basavakalyana will see a three-way battle with BJP’s Mallikarjun Khuba raising a banner of revolt and contesting as an independent candidate. In Belagavi, after the death of Angadi, several BJP leaders were vying for the seat. But with the party giving a ticket to Angadi’s wife Mangala, infighting within the party has dragged the party down. The party hopes to win the battle with sympathy votes over Angadi’s death.

Lakhan Jarkiholi and Balachandra Jarkiholi, two brothers from the Jarkiholi family, campaigned against Satish to go with the BJP’s Mangala. Lakhan was with the Congress and turned against the party after allegations of DK Shivakumar’s role in the sex scandal.

But the BJP won’t have it easy either. The party is certainly rattled with Satish’s candidature as several ministers made a beeline to campaign for the party candidate. “Yediyurappa addressed multiple rallies amid the COVID crisis. If they are not worried, why does the CM have to hold so many rallies? The BJP will face the brunt over price rise and fuel hike,” Satish told reporters.

Yediyurappa who wished not to comment on Satish’s claim, has, expressed confidence in winning. “KPCC president DK Shivakumar and former CM Siddaramaiah were talking about the by-polls. But BJP candidates’ victory with a huge margin will be the reply to Congress,” he said.

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