Congress solidarity pitched against unity among Opposition parties

The campaigning for the byelections to two of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka — Mandya and Bangalore Rural — concluded on Monday with the candidates of the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Congress emerging as the main contenders.

While voting will take place on Wednesday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., the counting of votes is scheduled for August 24. Elaborate security arrangements are being put in place to ensure free and fair elections.

One of the key highlights of the bypolls is the emergence of unity among the main Opposition parties in Karnataka — the JD(S), the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Karnataka Janata Paksha — and the cohesion among the senior leaders of the Congress. The byelections have thus turned into a direct contest between the governing party in the State and the Opposition.

The distinct unity among the senior Congress leaders in campaigning for the candidates was quite evident with even the former Chief Minister and Union Minister S.M. Krishna emerging as a key campaigner for the party candidates. All and sundry in the Congress have worked together, and in particular has been the stellar role played by the members of the Siddaramaiah Cabinet, who were assigned clear-cut responsibilities in the Legislative Assembly segments forming part of the two Lok Sabha constituencies. There are eight Assembly segments in the Mandya constituency and nine in Bangalore Rural.

The onus is on the incumbent Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee G. Parameshwara to prove that the party has staged a comeback in State politics, and to show that it is in a position to send an adequate number of elected representatives to the Lok Sabha from Karnataka. The byelections are looked at as a trendsetter to the next round of elections to the Lok Sabha scheduled next year.

It is another matter that the JD(S) and the BJP, after all their animosity over the past few years, settled into an understanding to put up a joint fight against the Congress candidates. The former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, despite his advanced age, and the former Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy have been the backbone of the JD(S) campaign. It is being described in political circles that they have done commendable work in drawing the attention of the electorate.

The Mandya and Bangalore Rural seats of the Lok Sabha were won by the JD(S) in the last Lok Sabha elections in 2009, and it is a matter of prestige for the party to retain the two prime seats located in the heart of Vokkaliga land. The two seats had been a bastion of the Congress for several terms of the Lok Sabha. The candidates of the JD(S) — C.S. Puttaraju and Anita Kumaraswamy — and that of the Congress — Ramya and D.K. Suresh — belong to the Vokkaliga community.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, Congress candidate M.H. Ambareesh lost the Mandya seat by a margin of over 24,000 votes to the JD(S) candidate N. Cheluvarayaswamy, while in the Bangalore Rural constituency, JD(S) candidate H.D. Kumaraswamy won against C.P. Yogeshwar (then in the BJP) by a margin of over 1.3 lakh votes.

While the Congress is exuding confidence that it will be successful in wresting the two prime seats, the JD(S), with all the support that it enjoys, is confident of retaining the seats. All said and done, the byelections are expected to be a battle royal marked by a close finish.

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