The bypoll for Nanjangud constituency is much more than a mere election for the BJP and the Congress in Karnataka. For the ruling Congress, a victory in the bypoll has become a matter of pride and a referendum for the 2018 assembly polls as far their clout in the traditional bastion of Mysuru belt is concerned. For the BJP, a victory in Nanjangud does not only mean breaching a Congress bastion but also managing to impress the Dalit vote banks in the region.
What makes this election interesting is also the fact that parties have fielded candidates who left their mother parties recently. Srinivas Prasad, a Dalit strongman and formerly a close friend and confidante of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah was also the cabinet minister till 2016. He had won the Nanjangud assembly constituency on a Congress. Miffed over being dropped from the cabinet, Srinivas Prasad quit the Congress leaving his seat from Nanjangud vacant.
The BJP welcomed the Dalit leader with open arms and has now fielded him in his own constituency. The BJP had never been more confident. An Ex-Congressman is now the BJP's candidate in a traditionally Congress bastion.
The Congress that came to power in Karnataka with the promise of 'inclusive development' rides high on the support it has from Dalit, backward classes and minorities. The bypoll in Nanjangud can alter these calculations at least on the Dalit support front. The Congress spent months looking for a candidate to field against strongman Srinivas Prasad. The name of Bose, Congress Minister Mahadevappa's son did the rounds initially but sensing the challenge ahead, Mahadevappa was smart to pull his son back from the race. He did not want a fractured entry into politics for his son.
In February, Kalale Keshavamurthy a Janata Dal-Secular leader who had lost to Srinivas Prasad by a mere 8,000 votes difference announced his decision to join the Congress party. Thus, the Congress imported a candidate from the JD-S to fight the NAnjangud bypoll on their ticket. The Congress hopes that its secure vote bank, as well as the Keshavamurthy's supporters, are able to patch the 8,000-mark difference and emerge victorious against Srinivas Prasad who is a popular face in the constituency. Congress also hopes to eat into Srinivas Prasad's individual voters.
The JD-S, meanwhile, has decided to stay out of the bypoll. Their initial pick was KAlale Keshavamurthy but his decision to jump to the Congress resulted in the JD-S withdrawing from the bypoll. "The bypoll is a waste of money and time for us," said JD-S' state president H D Kumaraswamy. While the JD-S claims it a waste of time, the BJP sees a ploy hatched by the JD-S and Congress to consolidate their votes to ensure Srinivas PRasad's defeat. Party patriarch and former prime minister H D Devegowda however, has asked party voters to be neutral, an appeal that the BJP has termed a farce.
With a former Congressman contesting on a BJP ticket and a former JD-S man contesting on a Congress ticket, the Nanjangud bypoll is surely a battle of the exes.