Hardly any other state in the country has a name that rings so true in the given situation - ‘nataka’ which in another context would mean ‘drama’ that has been unfolding in Karnataka politics.
The theatrics had actually begun after Congress and JD(S), considered arch rivals, especially in old Mysuru region, joined hands to form a coalition government after the May 2018 assembly polls threw up a hung verdict.
The government, headed by H D Kumaraswamy, lasted a little over a year. As many as 15 MLAs from both Congress and JD(S) defected to BJP and they were disqualified till the tenure of the Assembly by the then Speaker K R Ramesh Kumar. After Kumaraswamy's resignation, BJP leader B S Yediyurappa became chief minister. The disqualified MLAs meanwhile moved the Supreme Court. The apex court upheld the speaker's decision but it ruled that the MLAs could contest elections again.
Now, the byelections in the 15 constituencies, scheduled to be held on December 5, will decide which dispensation will rule the government. Results will be declared on December 9.
At present, BJP, which has the support of 106 MLAs, enjoys a slender majority in the 224-member House, while Congress and JD(S) together have the backing of 101 MLAs.
Bypolls will be held in Athani, Kagwad, Gokak, Yellapura, Hirekerur, Ranibennur, Vijayanagara, Chikkaballapura, KR Pura, Yeshawanthapura, Mahalakshmi Layout, Shivajinagar, Hosakote, K R Pet and Hunsur constituencies. About 165 candidates are in fray, including 126 independents and 9 women.
Most of the legislators who had defected to BJP were from North and Central Karnataka. They bore voters' anger when they launched their election campaign. Voters even stopped some candidates from entering villages, citing their inaction during the recent floods. The less said about relief camps that were established during the time of floods, the better. Voters were naturally fuming, and their anger was totally justified. When parts of the region was inundated for a long period, the centre didn’t release money for relief works. When the funds came, it was too little and too late. People have been waiting for a chance to catch hold of their representatives who had abandoned them at the time of distress, to demand answer from them. Now is the turn of the end user of democracy, they felt.
Congress leaders Siddaramaiah, Mallikarjun Kharge, JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy, BJP's Jagadish Shettar, K S Eshwarappa, and a host of ministers are actively campaigning in the constituencies. However, the surprising fact is that BJP's front line leaders have stayed away from active campaigning. The party's state unit has been managing the show. The result of this poll would have a great bearing on his continuation as the chief minster and the longevity of BJP government that is looking at having all rebel MLAs under its wings. BJP has given tickets to 13 out of the 16 MLAs who joined their party recently.
The bypoll has turned into a matter of pride and survival for all the parties involved. Some of the highly watched constituencies include Chikkaballapur, Hoskote, Shivajinagar, Mahalaxmi Layout, Gokak, and Yellapura to a large extent owing to neck-and-neck fight, and composition of voters that have supported their candidates so far. Yet, the other constituencies are not any less significant in terms of numbers.
At the end of everything, the voter who has been asking the question whether this is an election for his/her betterment or worse, will probably remain unanswered for a long time to come. Will people accept or reject those who imposed an election on the system again, costing very valuable resources in terms of funds and manpower, would be known on December 9. Would that mean there will be a stable government after that? Now, that will be a million dollar question.
(Preethi Nagaraj is an independent journalist and political analyst in Karnataka)