Karnataka Bypolls: BJP rivals raking up flood sentiments to put party in spot

Candidates who have shifted loyalties go all-out to justify their move

Ramesh Jarkiholi (L), Mahesh Kumathalli (R)
BELAGAVI: When the BJP fell short of eight seats to form the government after last year’s Assembly elections, sections of BJP leaders blamed it on the party’s poor showing in this sugarcane-growing north Karnataka region bordering Maharashtra.

Of the 18 Assembly constituencies in Belagavi district, the BJP could win only nine, while it was expecting a sweep. With barely a week left for the byelection critical for the BJP regime’s survival, the party is making all-out efforts to win over voters in the three constituencies of the district. For chief minister BS Yediyurappa to survive, each seat counts a lot.

Gokak, Athani and Kagwad are facing the bypolls on December 5. The disqualified MLAs from these constituencies — Ramesh Jarkiholi, Mahesh Kumathalli and Shrimant B Patil, respectively — are contesting as BJP nominees. All three had won from the Congress last year, and they are telling voters that they switched their loyalties to do good for their respective constituencies.

“The Opposition parties are maligning me saying I took crores of rupees to quit the Congress and switch to the BJP. But I quit because the JD(S)-Congress coalition government did not treat me with respect, they did not give funds to the constituency,” BJP candidate Shrimant Patil said at an election rally in Kagwad on Wednesday.

Requesting people’s support, he said re-electing him would mean a stable government in the state and also more funds to the constituency. “Do you want the development of this constituency or not,” he said.

In neighbouring Athani, party workers said victory of disqualified MLA Mahesh Kumathalli meant the constituency will have two powerful leaders from the BJP. “Laxman Savadi (who lost the 2018 Assembly election against Kumathalli) is already the deputy chief minister in the government. The CM has assured that even Kumathalli will become a minister. So, we are telling voters that if they vote for Kumathalli, it will do wonders for Athani,” BJP worker Shivu Patil said.

In Gokak, BJP taluk president Shashidhar Dev Shetty said the candidate and campaigners are explaining the situation to people that led to Jarkiholi joining the BJP. “We are trying to convince voters that he did not backstab his people and the party. Circumstances led to it,” he said, claiming that Yediyurappa’s promise of making Jarkiholi a minister will sway voters.

Meanwhile, the Congress and the JD (S) are banking on the narrative of “morality” and disqualified MLAs “letting down voters”. Speaking at a campaign meeting in Halyala, Congress candidate for Athani, Gajanana Mangasuli asked people if their MLA Kumathalli ever bothered to visit them when the village was reeling under flash floods.

“The MLA was sitting in a plush hotel in Mumbai trying to topple the government. Will you vote for someone who rejected your previous decision and caused the bypoll,” Mangasuli was heard saying.

“The disqualified MLAs have broken people’s trust. During the entire year after the coalition government was formed, they did nothing for the constituency. Here in Kagwad, we have been telling people how they have broken voters' trust. Flood relief is also an important issue,” said Umesh Patil who was previously a senior leader in the BJP district unit. He, however, is now backing Raju Kage, who is contesting from Kagwad on a Congress ticket after the BJP denied him the ticket.
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