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Bypolls acid test for BJP, Yeddi

Elections come days after party’s Maharashtra setback
Polling officials in Bangalore on Wednesday

The Telegraph   |   New Delhi   |   Published 04.12.19, 06:57 PM

Bypolls to 15 of the 17 constituencies in Karnataka left vacant by the disqualification of MLAs from the Congress-JDS alliance who defected earlier this year will be held on Thursday, setting up an acid test for the BJP that has suffered reverses in recent state elections.

The bypolls are crucial for the party, and chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa must help the BJP cement its position in the state to pep up flagging sentiments in favour of the Narendra Modi government that has been wracked by rising unemployment and an economy in a tailspin.

Voting in these seats will take place on Thursday, just days after the fledgling BJP government in Maharashtra collapsed, making way for Uddhav Thackeray to take over as chief minister.

The ruling BJP in Karnataka has fielded 13 of the turncoats in the seats headed for the bypolls. For the four-month-old government of chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa to survive, the BJP needs to win at least six of the 15 seats in the 224-member Assembly.

While the BJP seems confident of victory in the seats, Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Siddaramaiah has said his party will come back to power with a win in at least 12 seats. The Congress will, however, remain dependent on the JDS to form a government even with the wins.

The dates for the bypolls in two of the 17 seats — R.R. Nagar and Maski — are yet to be announced.

High drama

K.R. Ramesh Kumar, the Speaker at the time, had disqualified the MLAs under sections of the anti-defection legislation. The first resignations were of two Congress leaders — Gokak legislator Ramesh Jarkiholi and Vijayanagar MLA Anand Singh — on July 1.

Within a few days, 14 MLAs from the Congress and three from its alliance partner JDS had resigned, leading to the collapse of the 14-month-old H.D. Kumaraswamy-led coalition government.

Following the resignations, the rebel MLAs were shifted to a hotel in Mumbai where Congress leaders were prevented from meeting them. The alliance offered the MLAs ministerial positions.

The disqualification, for violating the party whip, barred the MLAs from contesting the polls for the remaining Assembly term and also from holding any constitutional post.

In mid July, the rebel MLAs had approached the Supreme Court in an attempt to get the disqualification revoked. On July 29, the BJP won a trust vote in the Assembly with state chief Yediyurappa taking over as chief minister.

Four months on, the Supreme Court upheld the disqualification of the MLAs but revoked the Speaker’s decision to bar them from contesting until 2023.

“In light of the existing constitutional mandate, the Speaker is not empowered to disqualify any member till the end of the term,” a three-judge bench of Justices N.V. Ramana, Sanjiv Khanna and Krishna Murari had observed and added that there was a “growing trend of the Speaker acting against the constitutional duty of being neutral”.

On the very next day, 16 of the 17 disqualified MLAs joined the BJP as the court cleared their way to contest the by-elections. And after initially denying any hand at the defections, the BJP gave tickets to 13 of the 17 rebel MLAs.

Increased wealth

It was reported that at least one of the legislators, N. Nagaraju, saw an increase in his wealth by Rs. 185 crore within 18 months with 53 deposits made to his accounts after his resignation from the coalition government on July 10, as The Telegraph has reported.
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