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Karnataka Bypolls: All Eyes on Ballari As Race to 2019 Tightens

As the results of the three seats are considered forgone, Ballari will be the big battle for the parties. 

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The results of the by-elections held for the three Lok Sabha and two Assembly seats in Karnataka is set to be announced on Tuesday, 6 November. Although considered a precursor to the 2019 general elections, the significance of these bypolls boils down to who will win North Karnataka’s Ballari district – the district that came under the scanner for illegal mining, which played a crucial role in 2013 Karnataka elections.

As the outcome of three seats are considered forgone, the parties have focused their efforts on the winning Ballari and Jamkhandi constituencies. But as both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress have deployed their big guns in Ballari, the showdown is expected in the district rich in iron ore.

According to observers, while a BJP win in the Ballari would retain status quo and provide a moral boost for the party, it is a Congress win that is expected to create an impact to reckon with ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

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The Forgone Results

As the results of the three seats are considered forgone, Ballari will be the big battle for the parties. 
HD Kumaraswamy (left) and BS Yeddyurappa (right)
(Photo: Altered by The Quint)

Out of the five constituencies going to polls, Mandya and Ramanagara – in the Old Mysore Region – are considered bastions of the Janata Dal Secular (JDS). As the BJP doesn’t have a strong base in this region, and the JD(S) is in an alliance with the Congress, the results in these seats are expected to go in JD(S)’s favour.

The BJP candidate in Ramanagara withdrawing from the elections in the last minute has cemented JD(S)’s victory in the region.

Similarly, in Shivamoga, the home turf of BJP state president BS Yeddyurappa, no upsets have been predicted. Yeddyurappa’s son BS Raghavendra is BJP’s candidate in Shivamoga and has already won a parliamentary election from the constituency in the past.

This essentially brings the spotlight on the Jamkhandi Assembly constituency and Ballari Lok Sabha seat. A tough competition is expected in both constituencies, however, the high-profile politicians involved in the campaign in Ballari makes it a battle to watch out for.

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Ballari: The Big Battle

As the results of the three seats are considered forgone, Ballari will be the big battle for the parties. 
The mine-rich state has been the ground for many big political battles. 
(Photo: Arun Dev/The Quint)

In 1999, Ballari – a mine-rich district in north Karnataka – was the arena for a political showdown between Sonia Gandhi and Sushma Swaraj. Gandhi won the elections that year, but over the next decade the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) managed to wrest power in the region.

In 2018, Ballari is ground for another crucial fight. Two strongmen of the Congress and the BJP are going head on this by-election. DK Shivakumar, who played a key role in ensuring the BJP was not allowed to form a government in Karnataka, is the district in-charge minister for Ballari. For the BJP, B Sriramalu, one of the mining barons of Ballari and the party’s go-to man in north Karnataka, will be leading the charge.

The Congress has fielded VS Ugrappa, an anti-mining activist and MLC, as their candidate in Ballari, while the BJP has fielded Sriramalu’s sister, J Shantha.

Fielding Ugrappa, who is not a local leader from Ballari, had come as a surprise for many. But his nomination was an attempt by the Congress to quell the infighting among the Congress leaders in Ballari over the ticket. This move, however, came with the risk of Ugrappa’s outsider tag affecting the Congress’ chances.

However, the Congress made up for this by fielding its strong campaigners, including former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and JD(S) supremo HD Devegowda, in the constituency.

As for the BJP, Shantha is considered a proxy for Sriramalu, and the party is hoping to cash in on his popularity in the region.

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Battle of the Strongmen

As the results of the three seats are considered forgone, Ballari will be the big battle for the parties. 
DK Shivakumar (left), B Sriramalu (Right)
Photo: The Quint 
For DK Shivakumar and B Sriramalu, winning Ballari is not only important for their parties, but also for their own political careers.

During last week of August, a turf war between DK Shivakumar and two other Congress leaders had threatened to bring down the government. The Jarkiholi brothers – Ramesh and Satish – two senior Congress leaders from north Karnataka had threatened to rebel, accusing Shivakumar of attempting a political coup in north Karnataka.

The brothers, who have control of the politics of the region, claimed Shivakumar tried to assert his influence in the districts in north Karnataka using proxies, even though he was not from the region.

The conflict was resolved with the Congress high command promising to induct an MLA from Ballari to the Cabinet and to replace Shivakumar as the minister in-charge of Ballari.

If DK Shivakumar ensures victory in Ballari, he will be able to retain his position as the district in-charge minister and continue to assert his influence over the region, which is part of his long-term plan – becoming the chief minister of the state. But a loss would put an end to his ambitions in north Karnataka.

The election is crucial for Sriramalu as well. During the Assembly elections in May this year, even though the BJP had fared well in the state, the party had managed victory in only three seats out of nine in Ballari. For Sriramalu, BJP’s in-charge for Ballari, a victory is important to show the leadership that he was in control of the region. Sriramalu, who was pitched as the deputy chief minister candidate after the Assembly election, is hoping to keep his relevance in the party intact with a win in Ballari.

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Jamkhandi – A Close Battle

In the Assembly elections, the Congress candidate Siddu Nyamagowda had won the seat with 32.13% vote in Jamkhandi. The BJP candidate finished close behind with 30.31% votes, but there was a catch.

The BJP votes were spilt between the BJP candidate and the rebel from the party. Sangamesh Nirani, a BJP leader, had rebelled from the party after he was denied a ticket and had contested as an independent. Nirani had managed to win 15.96% of the votes.

As the combined vote share of the BJP candidate and rebel was more than that of the Congress candidate, it is the said that the BJP stands a chance in the by-election.

However, the by-election was necessitated with Nyamagowda’s death in a road accident and his son is now contesting for the seat. The Congress is now hoping to convert some of BJP votes, cashing in on the sympathy wave.

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