Announcement of Karnataka bypolls triggers unease, debate in political circles

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A day after the Election Commission of India announced the date for bypolls in three Parliament constituencies in Karnataka, political parties have questioned the need for bypolls as the tenure of the elected member would last merely six months.

The announcement of byelections in Shimoga, Bellary (ST) and Mandya Lok Sabha constituencies, scheduled on November 3, has triggered a debate on austerity as well.

While Chief Election Commissioner O.P. Rawat, during a press meet held on Monday, clarified that the Lok Sabha seats fell vacant more than an year before the tenure of the house was to end, political parties argued that the bypolls are “uncalled for” as it is a burden on the exchequer. Some argue that it would also reflect poorly on the elected member as he/she cannot show good performance in such a short span of time. The bypolls were necessitated after BJP state president B.S. Yeddyurappa (Shimoga), BJP's B. Sriramulu (Ballari) and JD(S) MP C.S. Puttaraju (Mandya) vacated their seats after they got elected to the Karnataka Assembly in the polls held this May.

KPCC chief Dinesh Gundu Rao and BJP state president Yeddyurappa expressed their displeasure, stating that the bypolls are “unnecessary”. Chikkaballapur Congress MLA K. Sudhakar suggested that the JD(S)-Congress coalition should perhaps approach the EC, seeking cancellation of bypolls. Some mooted an amendment to the Constitution to avoid two close elections to the same seat.

Senior advocate B.V. Acharya noted that as per the Representation of People Act, elections to fill up a vacancy arising due to death or resignation of a member should be held within six months after the seat falls vacant. However, he observed that the section 151(a) of the Act mentions that the elections “need not be held” if the term is less than a year.

The political parties are wary of revealing their strategy too early before the main battle in 2019. Besides, a disappointing performance might end up demotivating the cadres.

While the BJP claims to have started the process of selecting the candidates, the Congress and the JD(S), which have entered a pre-poll alliance for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, are in no mood to hurry through the seat-sharing formula. Moreover, the bypoll outcome is feared to impact the crucial polls in 2019.

Even as the Congress is hard bargaining for both Shimoga and Ballari, the JD(S) seems unlikely to settle only for Mandya. The BJP has zeroed in on B.Y. Raghavendra to contest from Shimoga and the Congress is mooting the names of senior leaders Kagodu Thimmappa and Kimmane Ratnakara. The JD(S) is hoping to field Madhu Bangarappa, but the Congress might not yield as it has always been a straight fight between the national parties.

In Ballari, the BJP hopes to field Valmiki strongman Sriramulu's sister J. Shantha, his relative Sanna Fakirappa or Justice (retd) N.Y. Hanumanthappa. The Congress, which has assigned Water Resources Minister D.K. Shivakumar to lead the campaign, is yet to finalise the candidate.

Mandya, too, is turning out to be a battle field for the two allies as the cadres and local leadership is unhappy with the alliance. Both parties fear losing their hold in the region. JD(S) has too many aspirants in Mandya, including JD(S) patriarch H.D. Deve Gowda's grandsons Prajwal Revanna and Nikhil Gowda.

Even as the allies are busy ironing out their differences and working out a sound seat-sharing strategy for all 28 seats that go to polls in April-May next year, the sudden announcement of the bypolls has posed a great challenge to both parties. The party leaders and cadres in many constituencies have not supported the idea of a pre-poll alliance as they realise that they stand a better chance at wining if they go alone in the Parliament polls.

For the aspirants, a short stint, immediately followed by another election, is not a happy situation as elections cost huge money and a defeat might cost them the ticket for the 2019 polls.

The byelections to the three Parliament seats and two assembly seats—Ramanagara and Jamakhandi— will be held simultaneously on November 3 and the results will be declared on November 6.

While Ramanagara seat was vacated by Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswmy who contested and won from two seats and retained Channapatna, Jamakhandi assembly seat fell vacant after the sudden demise of sitting MLA Siddu Nyamagouda, who died in a road accident. Anita Kumaraswamy is most likely to be the consensus candidate for Ramanagara, as the Congress party is likely to field Nyamagouda's son Anand in Jamakhandi. The BJP will be once again fielding Shrikant Kulkarni, who had lost by a thin margin.

The notification for all the byelections will be issued on October 9 and the last date for filing the nomination will be October 16, scrutiny is on October 17 and the last date for withdrawal of candidature is October 20.