Dissent Brews in Karnataka BJP as 'Immigrant' MLAs and Loyalists Vie for Bypoll Tickets

File photo of Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa.

File photo of Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa.

While the party has decided to field the legislators who defected from Congress and JD(S) or their family members on all 15 seats, there is anger simmering within its own cadre.

Deepa Balakrishnan

Bengaluru: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been struck by a problem of plenty in Karnataka. It managed to wrest power in the southern state by engineering defections from rival parties, but now infighting and dissension has gripped it from within. By-elections to 15 constituencies, where legislators had defected, are due in a month and nominations have to be filed by September 30. The BJP has decided to field the same candidates (the MLAs disqualified by the-then Speaker) or their family members in all constituencies, but there is anger simmering within its own cadre.

Those leaders of the BJP who lost to these MLAs in the 2018 polls are unhappy that they are being sidelined, and that their loyalty to the party has so far not been recognised.

In places like Hoskote, the area MP’s son wants to contest as an independent candidate. In other places, MLA aspirants are openly speaking out against what they call “injustice” to them. Some are questioning how they can be expected to support defecting MLAs who they have always contested against.

“For almost 20 years, we have fought in the constituency on ideological grounds. Whatever beliefs our party has, on ideological grounds, we've fought on that in the constituency. In spite of many challenges, when he (Byrathi Basavraj) was in power there were plenty of cases being filed against our workers. In every ward, every booth, cases were filed. We have fought against their ideology and for our party. But, today it is very unfortunate, might be for some good or bad reasons, he's in the party,” Nandiesha Reddy, BJP aspirant from Krishnarajapuram, told CNN-News18.

A total of 17 seats had fallen vacant following the resignations of the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) MLAs who were eventually disqualified for violating their party whips when a confidence motion brought by then chief minister HD Kumaraswamy was put to vote.

Nandiesha, a former MLA, contested against Byrathi Basavaraj in the 2018 elections and lost by a margin of around 30,000 votes. Basavaraj, who was with the Congress then, was disqualified in July this year. The BJP needs to win at least six of the 15 by-polls slated for October 21 to remain in power

“He was into unethical politics. But today, I don't know what my party is going to do… I'm a very dedicated and very committed worker of the BJP. Still we all don't know what our future is going to be. The way his dictatorship is, we all cannot just cooperate or digest that,” said Reddy, adding that he is going to put up a fight if the party does not recognise him.

While many of the original party aspirants and defeated MLAs are not airing their woes in public, the BJP top brass is also clear that there is no question of changing its stand on the MLAs who gave up their posts to install this government.

"They have given up their memberships, based on our word. How can we go back on our word? These defeated MLAs who are now quibbling over how we are inducting the disqualified legislators must know one thing – if these MLAs did not give up their posts, the defeated candidates would have just been that – defeated MLA candidates. At least now, they are defeated MLA candidates in the ruling party. They must understand that reality," said a senior minister who is also a member of the core committee that decides the candidates.

In fact, the BJP is even willing to risk losing some of the bypolls where it doesn't have high hopes of winning. For example, in the Old Mysore region constituencies of Hunsur and Krishnarajpet, the BJP traditionally doesn’t have much of a vote-base to speak of. Similarly, in north Karnataka’s Ranebennur, many feel that there are slim chances of success if the candidate is R Shankar, who moved from one party to another, merged his own fringe party to join the Congress and quit that to join the BJP 20 days later. However, notwithstanding the winnability factor, they would still field him, the minister said.

All of this will, however, depend on the Supreme Court’s decision on a petition filed by the debarred MLAs challenging the disqualification order by former Speaker Ramesh Kumar. He also barred them from contesting elections until the term of the present assembly ended. The Election Commission’s submission in court on Wednesday that these disqualified legislators cannot be denied the right to contest bypolls has given them fresh hopes. The counsel for the Speaker has also been changed as the Speaker himself was changed after the new BJP government under chief minister BS Yediyurappa took over.

Hoskote’s Member of Parliament, BN Bachegowda, is one of those expecting a BJP ticket for a family member.

“The party must give a ticket to my son Sharath Bachegowda. I don’t know if they are going to make MTB Nagaraj (the disqualified MLA from the constituency) board chairman, MLC or minister. But BJP ticket to contest the bypoll must go to my son,” he said, hinting at the possibility of Sharath contesting as an independent if the ticket is denied to him.

The Supreme Court will continue hearing the case of the disqualified MLAs on Thursday.

“Definitely, there’ll be some kind of reservation and apprehension. They'll have their own stand and opinion. In a democratic setup, these things are bound to happen and we need to take everybody together. They can express their opinion, they can take their call. Ultimately we need to go together. That’s what is going to happen. It is time for them to make their case, make their pleas and these cases can be considered,” said deputy chief minister CN Ashwath Narayan.

“Whatever happens, ultimately all of us take a unanimous stand. All of us have to join hands and work together in the interest of the party. Party is ultimate for us. There’ll definitely be opportunities.”

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