The Election Commission on Saturday announced bypolls to 15 of Karnataka’s 17 vacant Assembly seats, stunning the ruling BJP and the former Congress and JDS lawmakers whose late-July disqualification had led to the change in government and the need for the fresh vote.
The announcement came at a time the 17 former lawmakers were hoping for some relief on Monday, when the Supreme Court is due to hear their appeal against their disqualification.
The 15 constituencies — 12 of them originally won by the Congress and three by former ruling partner Janata Dal Secular — will vote on October 21 along with Maharashtra and Haryana and a host of other bypolls across the country.
“Our petition is coming up for hearing in the Supreme Court on Monday and our lawyers will seek judicial intervention to stop the bypolls since holding elections in our constituencies is gross injustice to us,” K. Sudhakar, former Congress MLA from Chikkaballapur and one of the disqualified legislators, told reporters soon after the announcement.
Former Congress MLA Pratapgouda Patil called the bypolls an “injustice”. While elections will not be held in his constituency, Maski, Patil said the poll panel should have waited for what the court says.
“This is just not right as the Supreme Court has not issued its orders on our petition,” Patil said.
They later held a meting with BJP leader and chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa, who had rushed back to his office after cancelling programmes for the afternoon to pacify the rebels who had helped him come back to power.
The BJP has 105 MLAs in the 225-member Assembly, including the Speaker, or eight short of a simple majority.
The Congress has 65 lawmakers, minus 14 disqualified MLAs, and the JDS 34, minus three disqualified members.
The 17 seats had fallen vacant following the resignations of the Congress and the JDS MLAs who were eventually disqualified for violating their party whips when a confidence motion brought by former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy was put to vote.
Ramesh Kumar, who was the Speaker then, had disqualified all 17 for the Assembly’s remaining term till 2023. As that meant the 17 couldn’t contest any elections, unless the House is dissolved earlier, they had been waiting for positive outcome in the top court.
The Election Commission’s announcement left out two constituencies, Maski and RR Nagar, since cases involving these seats are pending since the 2018 Assembly polls.
Some losing candidates had approached the high court citing irregularities in last year’s elections in these two seats.
The Congress and the JDS have already decided to contest the bypolls alone in what promises to be a triangular contest against the ruling BJP.
“Kumaraswamy has already spoken his mind that we would contest all the 15 constituencies because of the suffering he endured at the hands of the Congress,” former Prime Minister and JDS national president H.D. Deve Gowda said, alluding to his son’s repeated statements alleging insults from the national party.
“So tomorrow, we are going to meet and take the views of all our senior leaders before making a formal announcement.” Kumaraswamy appeared confident. “This government’s life will end on October 21 when the people will decide the fate of this government,” the former chief minister told a party meeting in his constituency, Channapatna. “We won’t poach their MLAs for money. But the people will decide what is to come.” Indications were the former allies could join hands again.
Congress spokesperson V.S. Ugrappa didn’t rule out another post-poll alliance. “Nothing is permanent in politics. Our party high command will decide which way to go after the polls,” Ugrappa told The Telegraph on Saturday.
“For now we are going alone, as the JDS has also decided. But since most of these seats are our strongholds, we will certainly win as many seats as possible.”
The Congress on Saturday held a party rally in Hoskote near Bangalore, one of the 15 constituencies that would vote in the upcoming bypolls.