Never ever in the history of Karnataka (or any other Indian state for that matter) has a byelection raked as much traction as it is happening now. That's because never in the past has a coalition government collapsed over the allegations of ‘buying' sitting MLAs including the state president of a ruling partner party, so that the government came to collapse over heated debate and statewide shame. Even in 2008 when ‘Operation Kamala' was conducted in the open, Yeddyurappa was still an untainted Chief Minister who was wronged by his coalition partner (JD-S, with HD Kumaraswamy at the helm) who didn't vacate the chief minister's chair when it time to let go. Hence, it was seen as a rather brash attempt to ensure BSY's government was stable.
Obviously enough, a decade down the line Operation Kamala has not only been normalized but it has also manifested into the next level of buying MLAs to establish a government even when its future could be bleak and dangerous.
Intelligence report favours BJP
Internal intelligence has submitted a report which said BJP would manage to win in 8-9 constituencies – of the 15 constituencies - that will ensure Yeddyurappa's continuation as the chief minister.
Some of the key constituencies where the competition is going to be neck-to-neck include Hoskote, Yeshwanthpur, Hunsur, K R Pet, Gokak, Shivajinagar, and Chikkaballapur. Among these, intelligence report indicated that BJP will manage a narrow win in Chikkaballapur and Gokak, while it will have a cakewalk in Yellapura, K R Pura, Mahalakshmi Layout, Athani, Kagawada, Hirekerur, Ranebennur, and Vijayanagar.
Many leaders who had toppled the coalition government are contesting the bypoll. Some of them had defected from JD(S) to Congress, and vice-versa, while some others had even gone to BJP. So nothing looks sacrosanct here, except for the fact that the byelection has turned massive heat on all political parties.
This would be a significant mirroring of party leaders as well, who would be then questioned about their role and chair, including their significance of continuing in the position. At the moment, only Siddaramaiah in Congress looks like he is beyond questioning. It is a fact that no other Congress leader can pull and command crowd like him. HD Kumaraswamy of JD(S) has shed his share of tears and stories of how he was backstabbed by the ‘same people he trusted' to evoke some sympathy. Have the voters forgotten the fact that he was in coalition with BJP just a decade ago that he actually made them the mainstream party in Karnataka? One never knows till the results are out.
Constituencies to watch out for
Some of the names that rocked the last government include former close aide of Siddaramaiah, MTB Nagaraj, who is contesting from Hoskote. Nagaraj was those among the Congress party's uber rich who held key posts and had easy access to the top leaders. Interestingly enough, Nagaraj's wealth grew by close to Rs 200 crore between two elections without much tangible business sources accounting for this growth. Nagaraj was the last one to leave the coalition government to hole up with the rest of disqualified MLAs at a posh hotel in Mumbai during the time of ‘coup'.
KR Puram is another key constituency where Congress MLC M Narayanaswamy is taking on former Siddaramaiah close-aide Byrathi Basavaraj, who is now with the BJP. KR Puram has seen some highly charged campaigning with a lot of Congress leaders descending on the constituency calling out the ‘fraud' of Basavaraj. But this would probably go in BJP's favour considering the fact that Basavaraj's support base exists even beyond the aura of Congress.
These apart, there is Chikkaballapura constituency where K Sudhakar - who had won the seat on massive margin on a Congress ticket in 2018 - is facing voters as the BJP candidate. Congress has fielded little-known Anjanappa, while N Radhakrishna is the JD(S) candidate. But the fight here is pretty straight between Sudhakar and Anjanappa.
Congress appears to have continued with puzzling decision when it fielded Rizwan Arshad from Shivajinagar, a predominantly Muslim area, against Tanveer Ahmad of JD(S) who enjoys a ‘good man' image among both the party and his community. BJP's Saravana is the third candidate in the fray. Rizwan had contested from Bangalore Central in the Lok Sabha elections and lost to P C Mohan of the BJP.
Hunsur and Yeshwanthpur and Gokak will witness close three-way contests. In Hunsur, former JD(S) state president Adaguru H Vishwanath is the BJP candidate. He had also worked with Congress. His rivals are Somashekhar of JD(S) and H P Manjunath of Congress.
The famous Jarakiholi brothers, who kept both coalition and BJP government on its toes when they were in Congress, too play a major role in this bypoll. Ramesh Jarakiholi this time is contesting as BJP canidate from Gokak against his family member Lakhan Jarakiholi of Congress and Ashok Pojari of JD(S).
Will the tenets of democracy be protected with the loss of seats for all disqualified MLAs losing their seats? Or will the voters choose to be generous enough to forgive their folly? All these questions will be answered on December 9.
(Preethi Nagaraj is an independent journalist based in Karnataka)