Congress unites to face JDS-BJP in parliamentary bypolls

Bangalore, Aug 17 (IANS) The JD-S move to openly seek the BJP's backing for the Aug 21 bypolls to two Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka, though claiming no dilution in its "secular" plank, has forced leaders of the ruling Congress to sink their differences to unitedly take on the "unholy combine".

The bypolls are being held for the Bangalore Rural and Mandya seats, both known to be strongholds of the Janata Dal-Secular led by former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda and his son H.D. Kumaraswamy, the state JD-S president and former chief minister.

The bypolls were necessitated by Kumaraswamy and his party colleague N. Cheluvarayaswamy quitting the seats after getting elected to the state assembly in the May 5 polls.

Mandya is about 80 km from Bangalore and is also the home district of Congress veteran S.M. Krishna, a former chief minister and former external affairs minister.

The Congress was a particularly badly divided house in Mandya with Krishna and popular Kannada actor M. H. Ambareesh pulling in different directions.

The two groups have, however, now come together for the bypoll and Krishna Friday began campaigning for Congress candidate Ramya, a leading Kannada film actress.

Ramya was chosen because Krishna reportedly declined to allow one of his daughters to contest as he was upset at being ignored in the candidate selection process for the assembly elections that brought the Congress to power in the state on its own after nine years.

Ambareesh had an upper hand in the selection of candidates for the assembly elections. He is now housing minister in the Siddaramaiah government.

Addressing a series of meetings in Mandya on Friday, Krishna lashed out at the JD-S for talking secularism but entering into an "unholy tie-up" with the Bharatiya Janata Party which the JD-S, like the Congress and many other parties, dubs as "communal".

In Bangalore Rural, the Congress has put up D.K. Suresh, brother of former minister and now party legislator D.K. Shivakumar, who has been sulking at not being made a minister in the present set-up.

Though the Congress is making a determined bid to win both the seats, a victory in Bangalore Rural would deal a body blow to Deve Gowda and his family and their hold on the JD-S, particularly ahead of the general elections due in about nine months.

Gowda has nominated his daughter-in-law Anita Kumaraswamy, wife of Kumaraswamy, in Bangalore Rural, indicating the importance the family attaches to retaining the seat.

Anita was chosen though she lost the assembly elections from Channapatna, one of the eight assembly segments in the Bangalore Rural Lok Sabha constituency.

She was defeated by C.P. Yogeeshwara, a former Congress legislator who had joined BJP but quit ahead of the assembly elections and contested as a Samajwadi Party candidate after he was denied the Congress ticket. He is the lone SP legislator in the state.

Yogeeshwara has announced his support to the Congress, though he was also wooed by the JD-S.

Though the victors will have a nine-month tenure in the Lok Sabha - if elections are not held earlier than due - the Congress and JD-S have made the bypolls a prestige issue.

The Congress wants to win as this is the first bypoll after it returned to power in the state.

For the JD-S, a victory will mean not only retaining its hold on the two constituencies but also a possible pointer to sewing up a grand anti-Congress combine with the BJP and smaller parties in the hope of winning the majority of the 28 Lok Sabha seats from the state in 2014.

The results on Aug 24 will show whose game plan succeeded.

(V.S. Karnic can be contacted at vs.karnic@ians.in)

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