The BJPs fixation on Varuna to the near-exclusion of other constituencies in the Mysuru region and the intensive campaigning by the top party honchos underscores the prominence the constituency has acquired in the 2023 elections slated for May 10.
The importance of Varuna stems from the fact that the outcome of the elections here will also determine the future of Congress in the State to a large extent as its fortunes are entwined considerably to the popularity and mass appeal of the former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah who is contesting from the constituency.
In BJP’s scheme of things, an electoral reverse to Mr. Siddaramaiah will also considerably weaken the Congress in the State and hence its blitzkrieg in Varuna to drum up support for its candidate and minister V. Somanna, a prominent Lingayat leader.
A galaxy of leaders – from Home Minister Amit Shah to former Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa have campaigned in Varuna though they have only made a token presence in other segments.
The local BJP machinery is also going all out canvassing in Varuna while there is hardly any backup for its candidates in – with the exception of Krishnaraja - either Chamundeshwari in Mysuru Rural or Chamaraja and Narasimharaja in Mysuru urban not to mention Hunsur, H.D.Kote, Periyapatana or T.Narsipur.
For Mr. Siddaramaiah, Varuna in 2023 is akin to Chamundeshwari bypoll of 2006 which he won by a narrow margin of 257 votes despite the then ruling State machinery arrayed against him and the outcome that gave him a new lease of political life.
Though he lost by over 36,000 votes in the 2018 elections from Chamundeshwari, the victory in Badami ensured his political survival. But denied a second constituency, Mr. Siddaramaiah does not have the luxury of a backup in case of an electoral reverse this time in the BJP’s calculation and hence its overdrive in Varuna.
The game-plan to field a strong candidate in Mr. Somanna was also to confine Mr. Siddaramaiah in his constituency and restrict his movements in his bid to stave off the BJP challenge on his home turf.
The BJP’s strategy – of confining Siddaramaiah – has so far not worked as the Congress leader has made only one tour of the Varuna segment – as on May 3 – but is spending most of his time campaigning across the State and thus sniggering his contempt for the BJP challenge.
The bulk of the campaigning in Varuna is being carried out by his son and incumbent MLA Yathindra who has nurtured the constituency since 2018 before which Mr.S iddaramaiah himself was elected twice – in 2008 and 2013 - from here.
As Mr. Siddaramaiah has announced that this will be his ‘last election’, the BJP has now clutched to this statement to question the need to vote for a person on the verge of ‘retirement’.
The BJP also plays the Lingayat card by recalling Mr. Siddarmaiah’s “corrupt Lingayat CM” remark or allude to the Congress treatment in a bygone era – of S. Nijalingappa and Veerendra Patil – in the constituency where the community has nearly 57000 to 60000 votes in a bid to swing them against the Congress.
There is also a mild undercurrent of the ‘Srinivas Prasad factor’ in the constituency with considerable Dalit votes which the BJP is trying to harness. A prominent Dalit leader, Mr. Prasad who is also the Chamarajanagar MP – fell out with Mr. Siddaramaiah after being dropped from his Cabinet in 2016 and joined the BJP and the party is now banking on him to tilt the community vote in favour of the BJP.
Mr. Prasad himself was in Varuna on Tuesday to drive home the point that Mr. Siddaramaiah had humiliated him – and by extension all Dalits – and hence the community should “teach him the same lesson in Varuna as in Chamundeshwari.”
But whether the BJP can make inroads in the constituency where the Congress is raising existential issues that are locally germane like price rise, unemployment and promising freebies that impact the lives of the voters, remains to be seen.