Voters in Hebbal, a bustling Bangalore suburb, turned up in huge numbers on Saturday to exercise their franchise in the bypoll to Hebbal Assembly constituency. The polls were necessitated by the death of sitting BJP MLA Jagadeesh.
The election, being contested primarily between the Congress and the BJP, has evoked a lot of interest in the political circles in Karnataka. The interest rose after the Congress high command replaced Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s aide Byrathi Suresh with C.K. Jaffer Sharief’s grandson Abdul Rahman Sharief as the candidate. The move was seen as the first major standoff between the Chief Minister and his adversaries within the party who have been unhappy with his style of functioning. Angry Siddaramaiah supporters took it as a personal attack on Siddaramaiah. A Siddaramaiah supporter told The Sunday Guardian: “It was a simple election for Byrathi Suresh as he would have won hands down, but the high command was misled by some within the partywhich has now created a challenging situation.” With the bypoll results on Tuesday, it may emerge as a crucial chapter in the relationship between the Congress high command and Siddaramaiah. The standoff between them may take newer dimensions.
Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, Siddaramaiah said, “We are all united and working for the party. The party has taken a decision and we all respect the same. So many leaders coming out and joining the campaign clearly shows the party is together.”
The election rush and campaign pressure over the week saw temporary truce with the various factions within the Congress sinking their differences and working together to grab the opportunity to wrest the BJP stronghold of Hebbal. The BJP which fielded V. Narayanaswamy as the candidate is banking on the support base it has in this North Bengaluru seat. Union minister Sadananda Gowda took it upon himself to coordinate the campaign, as it is a key segment of his parliamentary seat. The party hopes that it will be able to pull it off using the Vokkaliga votes which are a sizeable number.
The Congress, on the other hand, is banking on both the minority votes and Vokkaliga votes. The party appointed energy minister and a strong Vokkaliga leader D.K. Shivakumar in-charge of poll management. The minorities constitute over 40% of voters in the constituency. The concern for the Congress, however, is also from the fact that even the JDS fielded a Muslim candidate. The triangular contest may make the contest even more close. Young Congress leader Mehroz Khan, the backroom boy of the party in several previous elections, oversaw the campaign on social media. Mehroz said: “This byelection was a very complicated affair as the seat was a BJP stronghold and their social media presence was initially stronger. My team without being visible connected the educated voters on Facebook and Twitter and highlighted how Rahman would be a better choice as MLA.”