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BJP and Rebel MLAs Faced a Huge Gamble in Karnataka Bypolls. EC Order Gives Them a Way Out

The by-elections next month would have forced the BJP to take a risk without knowing the fate of the disqualified MLAs, but the postponement allows the party to see how the situation unfolds in SC.

Sharath Sharma Kalagaru | News18

Updated:September 26, 2019, 11:13 PM IST
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BJP and Rebel MLAs Faced a Huge Gamble in Karnataka Bypolls. EC Order Gives Them a Way Out
File photo of Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa.

Bengaluru: In huge relief for the BJP, the Election Commission on Thursday decided to defer the bypolls to 15 assembly seats in Karnataka till the Supreme Court decides on the petitions by the rebel Congress and JD(S) MLAs challenging their disqualification.

This was a marked departure from the position the EC had taken on Wednesday, when it had told the Supreme Court that it saw no reason to stay the polls as it doesn’t bar the disqualified MLAs from contesting.

Citing precedents set by Tamil Nadu, where 18 disqualified AIADMK MLAs were allowed to contest polls, the EC had told the court that it does not object to the disqualified leaders from contesting.

But on Thursday, the EC changed its stand and told the top court it will postpone the elections till the bench decides the fate of the rebel MLAs. The three-judge SC bench accepted the EC’s decision and posted the matter for hearing next on October 22, a day after the polls were originally scheduled.

The move helps the BJP, which was in a fix over whether to allot tickets to the rebel lawmakers, who were disqualified by the previous Speaker in July, or to name its own candidates.

With the last date of filing nominations, September 30, fast approaching, the BJP camp and the disqualified MLAs were confused over their strategy and there were two possible scenarios developing.

The BJP could have gone ahead with the assumption that the rebel MLAs would get relief from the Supreme Court before the Election Commission scrutinised the nominations. It would have had to field dummy candidates on the 15 seats.

The rebel MLAs would then have to file their nominations as independent candidates, and once the disqualification was lifted, the dummy candidates would have been asked to withdraw.

But if the Supreme Court would have decided to uphold the disqualification, the BJP would have had to contest the election with the dummy candidates, handing the Congress and JD(S) a huge advantage.

On the other hand, if the BJP decided to give tickets to strong candidates from the party and the Supreme Court gave relief to the disqualified MLAs, the BJP would again have been on a sticky wicket as the strong candidates from the party may have resisted and not withdrawn their nominations.

But the Election Commission’s decision to postpone the elections despite issuing the notification would let the BJP see how the situation unfolds.

The previous Speaker, KR Ramesh Kumar, had disqualified 17 MLAs - 13 of the Congress, three of the JDS and one independent after they resigned in July. This had paved the way for the fall of the Congress-JD(S) coalition government headed by HD Kumaraswamy and the BJP had formed the government as it attained majority after the strength of the House reduced.

The BJP currently has 104 MLAs and the support of Independent lawmaker H Nagesh. The Congress has 64 and the JD(S) 34. After the by-polls, the magic number in the Karnataka assembly will be 111. The BJP has to win at least six seats out of the 15 going to polls to hold on to power in the state.

All the seats where the by-polls will be held are considered to be the strongholds of the Congress and the JDS. There is also a strong sentiment on the ground against the rebel lawmakers among voters as they had quit just before the state was affected by floods.

The Congress and JDS together have 98 seats as of now. If they fight the elections separately and win all 15 seats between them, their numbers will go up to113 and they can stake claim to form the government, although it appears to be highly unlikely. If not, both parties can call for the dissolution of the government and fresh elections, claiming that the BJP has lost its majority.

Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president Dinesh Gundu Rao, meanwhile, on Thursday announced the candidates after a meeting of the core committee in Bengaluru.

The party has fielded Padmavathi in Hoskote, Narayanaswami in KR Puram, KB Chandrashekar in KR Pet, HB Manjunath in Hunsur, Lakhan Jarakiholi in Gokak, Prakash Hukkeri in Kagawada, KB Koliwad in Ranebennur, Suryanarayana Reddy in Hospet, Bannikod in Hirekerur and Shivaraju in Mahalakshmi Layout. The Congress yet to finalise candidates in Yellapur, Yeshwanthpur, Chikkaballapura, Athani and Shivajinagar.

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