Losers Versus Turncoats: How Friction Within BJP Has Kept Maski, RR Nagar Seats Out of Bypoll Race
Cases of malpractice are pending before high court against the disqualified MLAs of Maski and Rajarajeshwarinagar. They were filed by the BJP candidates who faced defeat in these two seats in the 2018 Assembly election.
File photo of voters standing in a queue to cast their vote during the by-election in Karnataka.
Bengaluru: As many as 17 lawmakers of the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) were disqualified in Karnataka after they put in their papers that led to the fall of the coalition government and helped the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s BS Yediyurappa come to power.
The by-elections were necessitated after the MLAs were disqualified by the then speaker KR Ramesh Kumar for the rest of the term, a decision upheld by the Supreme Court which, however, struck down the term of disqualification while adding that they could not be barred from contesting.
However, the bypolls were held in only 15 of these seats last Wednesday. The remaining two seats that are yet to see elections are Maski (in Raichur district) and Rajarajeshwarinagar (in Bengaluru).
Both have cases pending in the Karnataka High Court for completely a different reason — electoral malpractice. And, the constituencies would continue to remain unrepresented in the Assembly for some more time, considering that the cases haven’t moved ahead much in the court.
The cases are pending against the disqualified MLAs of these two constituencies — Pratapgouda Patil and Muniratna. They were filed by the BJP candidates who faced defeat in these two seats in the Assembly election of May 2018.
With both the MLAs now joining the BJP, it has left the party in a pickle. In fact, Patil was among the Congress MLAs who 'spearheaded' the defection and got many others from his party to board the rebellion bus.
The party apparently tried to persuade its earlier-defeated candidates — Basanagouda Turvihal and Muniraju Gowda — to withdraw their cases and leave the field, and the constituency, open for the defectors. But having fought a legal battle for 19 months now, neither of them are in any mood to back off.
"How can I do that? This is my mission. Muniratna had no right to become an MLA in the first place," Gowda told News18. "He won through illegal means. All my evidence is submitted, his counsel had tried to get long-drawn adjournments until now. Now, he suddenly wants to expedite the case and is seeking early dates. Arguments are underway and the next hearing is on December 18. It may take another two/ three months before it is concluded," he said.
Gowda has two prayers before the high court — to disqualify Muniratna and to declare the runner-up (himself) as the winner, thus announcing that the first victory in RR Nagar Assembly constituency had come by foul means.
Gowda’s first prayer has been answered, albeit for a different reason. If the court grants his second plea, there may be no need for an election at all. He would automatically be declared the MLA, setting aside the victory of Muniratna. All the related issues of defection and joining the BJP with much fanfare would come to naught.
While it was convenient to get the hearings adjourned until now as long as he was an MLA, adjournments are now a pain for obvious reasons — he has been disqualified in a different case. Bypolls cannot be held until the pending case is disposed of. Hence, Muniratna would continue to remain disqualified and his future uncertain as long as the case is pending.
Elections to the RR Nagar constituency had, in fact, been postponed by a month in May 2018 after the complaints on illegal electoral practices were filed.
"We have told the court that more than 10,000 voter ID cards were found in an apartment owned by him. Over 26,000 forms 6 (meant for addition to voters list) that should be available only in government offices were found there (victory margin in the seat was a little more than 25,000 votes). There was no police investigation despite the findings because the complainant was forced to withdraw his case. So I'm going ahead with my case, come what may. Of course, there have been pressures to not pursue it, but I am going ahead," Gowda said.
Turvihal, in Maski, has also faced similar pressures, but perhaps to a larger extent. He filed his case against Patil within three days of the election results being declared.
"He has not attended court hearings, he has sought many adjournments," Turvihal told News18. "We have submitted evidence of double voting and illegal electoral practices. His own daughter is listed as having voted in that election, when we know she was abroad. There are other people who are dead, whose votes were registered. There are nearly 500 voters like these."
He lost by a margin of 213 votes. In mid-October, when BJP state president Nalin Kumar Kateel had gone to address a party workers' meeting in Maski, Turvihal's supporters had even taken out an advertisement in a local eveninger about why he and not Patil should be fielded from this constituency if there is ever a by-election.
The party is yet to take a call on the issue, but Turvihal is not very optimistic. "We have to see how the results come out on December 9 (for the by-elections in the 15 other constituencies). It depends on how our party fares. If, at the end of it, my high command says I have to withdraw my case, I have to see what to do," he told News18, adding wondrously if he can stave off the central leadership’s orders.
He has been made the chairman of the state-run Command Area Development Authority, a body under the Water Resources Department. Now that the winner and the runner-up of the 2018 election are both in the BJP, it's the voter of course who has been taken for a ride.
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