Rajarajeshwari Nagar Bypoll: BJP Counts on Cong Rebel’s Popularity

More than two years and a court case later, Rajarajeshwari Nagar is witnessing another election on 3 November.

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India
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Former Congress MLA Munirathna, the BJP on Tuesday announced as BJP’s candidate in RR Nagar. 
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In May 2018, Rajarajeshwari Nagar constituency in Bengaluru was the epicentre of political drama. The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accused each other of trying to rig elections after nearly 10,000 voter identity cards were found stashed in boxes in a flat. More than two years and a court case later, this constituency is set to witness another election on 3 November.

Even this time, the electoral contest brings drama to the constituency. Munirathna, the former Congress MLA from the constituency, who jumped ship to BJP during the previous political crisis, has been given a seat by the saffron party. While, the Congress has fielded Kusuma, wife of a former IAS officer whose death had made him a household name in the state.

While these aspects of the elections add a drama quotient, these aren’t real issues that will eventually decide the outcome of the election.

BJP’s ‘Munirathna Problem’

Even though an influential leader and former MLA from the constituency, Munirathna’s selection as the BJP’s candidate for RR Nagar was not unanimous, say party sources. The CM Yediyurappa-led camp in the BJP backed Munirathna because the chief minister had assured all defectors tickets, however, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) faction wanted Tulasi Muniraju Gowda, who was the BJP’s candidate in 2018 to contest in the election.

The tussle over the ticket went up to central high command of the BJP and it was decided that Munirathna would be the candidate.

Getting Munirathna a ticket was a moral victory for the Yediyurappa camp, but ensuring his victory is going to be a difficult task.

In 2018, it was BJP candidate Tulsi Muniraju Gowda who filed a case against Munirathna, alleging election malpractices. Disgruntled Gowda is unlikely to support Munirathha, believe some party leaders. One of the signs of this disgruntlement was protest reported a day after the announcement of Munirathna’s candidature. At a party meeting in the constituency, several party workers have publicly raised objection against Munirathna. Many supporters said that the decision to give the ticket to a Congress defector had let down ‘loyal party workers’.

Munirathna: A ‘Villain’ Turned Ally

 Munirathna with Siddaramaiah when he was in Congress. 
Munirathna with Siddaramaiah when he was in Congress. 
(Photo Courtesy: Congress Media Cell)

The problems the BJP has with Munirathna doesn't end with this ideological difference. While he was a Congress MLA from Rajarajeshwari Nagar there were several incidents of him having problems with the local corporators from the BJP, with some alleging Munirathna did not allow them to work.

In 2017, three women corporators – Manjula Narayanaswamy, JD(S), Mamata Vasudev (BJP) and Asha Suresh (Congress) – protested in the well of the BBMP Council and threatened to attempt suicide by consuming floor cleaning liquid. They alleged harassment by Munirathna and his followers.

Just a year before that, Asha Suresh, representing HMT Ward, has tendered her resignation accusing Munirathna of malpractices. She complained that the MLA does not allow the BBMP engineers to work in her ward, and over the last three years, he has been arm-twisting BBMP officials in her ward.

“He doesn’t allow corporators from any party to undertake work, because he has vested interests. In the last election, senior Congress leaders had convinced the corporators to support him in the election and it helped. But this time, it would be difficult. Whether it’s Congress, BJP or JD(S), corporators who are influencers at the ground level don’t like Munirathna,” said a corporator on the condition of anonymity.

With resistance within the BJP and disgruntlement from BJP corporators, the BJP will have to work hard to get Munirathna elected again.

The Congress’ Multilayer Plan

Kusuma with KPCC president DK Shivakumar. 
Kusuma with KPCC president DK Shivakumar. 
(Photo Courtesy: Congress)

When the Congress fielded Kusuma as the candidate from Rajarajeshwari Nagar, the initial reaction suggested that the contest will be between sympathy towards Kusuma’s husband DK Ravi DK Ravi, an upright IAS officer who ended his life, and Munirathna’s influence in the constituency. However, the Congress’ plan is multi-layered.

Yes, Congress believes that the sympathy towards DK Ravi would help him since the IAS officer was a Vokkaliaga, and Rajarajeshwari Nagar has around nearly 72,000 Vokkaliga voters.

However, a senior Congress leader said the party is also looking at Kusuma’s father’s influence. Her father, Hanumantharayappa had headed the Rajarajeshwari Nagar City Municipal Council in early 2000s and he had also unsuccessfully contested the 2008 election to Rajarajeshwari Nagar on a JD(S) ticket. The leader pointed out in a way, the electoral battle in the area is between the popularity of Hanumantharayappa and Munirathna.

But the party is not just relying on these factors. “It is true that Hanumantharayappa is not as popular as Munirathna, but then this constituency comes under MP DK Suresh (KPCC president DK Shivakumar’s brother) and he has influence over the Vokkaliga community. So a combination of these factors would help us,” said the leader.

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