It’s old loyalties vs. old rivalries for Munirathna in R.R. Nagar bypoll
Dissidence within BJP and possible Vokkaliga consolidation are pain points for Munirathna here
From what was expected to be a walkover for Munirathna, the R.R. Nagar byelection has now turned out to be a hot arena for the BJP candidate, who has represented it twice as a Congress leader.
Continued dissidence within the BJP against his candidature and an attempt to consolidate Vokkaliga votes against him by the Congress are the key challenges Mr. Munirathna faces, according to sources close to him. The JD(S), which has a considerable base in the constituency, has also been running a high-pitched campaign, turning into an “X factor” in the bypoll.
Tulasi Muniraju Gowda, a two-time BJP candidate against Mr. Munirathna, has been fighting a pitched battle against him, even challenging his 2018 election victory over malpractice. From the RSS stable, he lobbied hard to prevent Mr. Munirathna’s entry into the BJP and later against giving him the party ticket, but failed. Mr. Gowda has not been active in the campaign, said sources. Mr. Munirathna also had a bitter feud with local councillors — three women from three parties — when he was a Congress MLA. Multiple BJP councillors are also not actively campaigning for him.
“The party’s worker base has not forgotten those days,” said a former BJP councillor, though Mr. Munirathna himself has been insisting that the old differences were buried. He is banking on Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa’s campaign in BJP strongholds to directly appeal to the party’s loyal vote base, bypassing the local leaders. He has also ushered in star power, with actor-turned-politician Khushboo campaigning for him and actor Darshan expected to join as well.
Meanwhile, running his campaign aggressively are three former Congress councillors, who shifted to the BJP with him. One of them, G.K. Venkatesh, was accused of trying to disrupt Leader of the Opposition Siddaramaiah’s rally, and was arrested and later released on bail.
Strong base in slums
However, what Mr. Munirathna is banking on is his base in the constituency, especially in the slum pockets, which goes beyond party or caste loyalties. “In these pockets, he got insurmountable leads in the previous two elections. He has tremendous goodwill there. For instance, he called most of the households in these areas personally during the recent lockdown and supplied them ration for three months,” a Congress leader conceded.
Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president D.K. Shivakumar and his brother and local MP D.K. Suresh, spearheading the Congress campaign, are attempting a Vokkaliga vote consolidation, given that Mr. Munirathna has had run-ins with Vokkaligas in the constituency. As opposed to this, the Congress candidate and new entrant H. Kusuma, a Vokkaliga, comes with no baggage and is seen as polished and educated.
However, BJP strategists are hopeful that the Congress’ “overt attempt at Vokkaliga consolidation” will push other communities, especially the OBCs, to the BJP. However, they fear that the attempt to disrupt a rally of Mr. Siddaramaiah, a prominent OBC leader, may cause some damage.
JD(S) revs up campaign
The Congress’ attempt at Vokkaliga consolidation has upset the JD(S), with former H.D. Kumaraswamy wary of Mr. Shivakumar’s attempt to project himself as the big leader of the community, party sources said. The JD(S), that initially did not seem serious in the constituency, has picked up and is running a pitched campaign with Mr. Kumaraswamy himself in the lead and making a focused attack on the Congress. The JD(S) has a considerable base in the constituency, winning 40,000 to 60,000 votes since 2008. While BJP and Congress leaders claim the election is fast turning into a two-horse race, the JD(S) is keen to make its presence felt, and this might hurt the Congress.