A BJP worker expressed his happiness that he would not have to go the polling station to exercise his franchise for the upcoming byelection in the Rajarajeshwarinagar (RRNagar) constituency.
“I’m just glad about it. My vote in the same constituency got deleted from the voters list when he was trying to rig the voters list in the last election," the BJP worker said, while referring to the party’s candidate Munirathna, who had defected from the Congress in July last year.
Munirathna is one of the turncoat MLAs who had switched camps to bring down the then JD(S)-Congress coalition government and help BS Yediyurappa return to power.
Munirathna has earlier been a corporator and an MLA in the RRNagar area, and elections in this constituency had been cancelled during the general Assembly elections in May 2018 after thousands of voter ID cards were recovered from an apartment he had allegedly rented.
At the time, he was a Congress candidate and had faced serious allegations of malpractice from the BJP.
Before that, almost a decade ago, Munirathna was in the news for being a fraudulent contractor of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike. He had allegedly built a faulty wall that fell in the rains leading to the death of a schoolgirl.
His opponent in the 2018 elections, BJP’s Tulsi Muniraju Gowda, had filed a case of election malpractice that had dragged till the Supreme Court. Gowda now puts up posts on social media that it is always ‘Nation first, party next, me last.’
While it may seem like he has reconciled with supporting a defector, all may not be well within the saffron camp. A BJP leader expressed doubts if Gowda would campaign for and with Munirathna.
Many party workers believe Munirathna has always been that legislator who likes to flex his muscle at will — one estimate suggests he has filed FIRs against as many as 760 workers in the area out of political vengeance.
The rebellion is more pronounced in the BJP’s youth wing. Sandesh Bandappa, the head of the RRNagar unit of the BJP’s Yuva Morcha, quit on Tuesday evening, hours after the party announced Munirathna as its candidate for the by-election.
“I’ve had fake cases slapped on me just for being in the BJP by the person the party has now chosen to contest as its candidate. Karyakarthas like me put our lives at stake for the party in return for this," Bandappa said in a letter he posted on social media, tagging everyone from Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa to organisation secretary BL Santosh.
Bandappa also said in his letter that he was unhappy about the dumping of Gowda, who he said had built the party from scratch in the area, for the bypoll.
For a party that strongly relies on booth-level cadres and their footwork for a win, the latest development could turn out to be a setback for the BJP and Munirathna.
Sapthagiri Gowda, the party’s Bengaluru unit secretary, said, “Of course, there will be disappointment among cadres — a newcomer has been given the party ticket. But party seniors will sit together and bring about a compromise."
About 10 days ago, BJP leaders held a couple of meetings to pass on the message at ward- and booth-level committees that they must work for the party, regardless of who is chosen as the candidate. “We have told them that your loyalty should be to the party, the party is the candidate here. Set aside your differences," Sapthagiri told News18.
However, he had not yet been able to reach out to Bandappa after the latter resigned.
Munirathna filed his nomination on Wednesday, as did his opponent Kusuma H, the widow of IAS officer DK Ravi whose suicide had attracted much controversy five years ago.
Kusuma is a candidate chosen by Congress’ new president DK Shivakumar, for whom this by-election will be a litmus test of sorts — the first election after he became president. Also, the RRNagar Assembly segment falls in the Lok Sabha constituency represented by Shivakumar’s brother DK Suresh.
Karnataka will see bypolls in another constituency — Sira in Tumkur district, where the JD(S) MLA passed away last month.
The JD(S) has fielded the deceased MLA’s widow as candidate, while the Congress has former law minister TB Jayachandra as its nominee. The BJP’s candidate in this seat is a newcomer, Rajesh Gowda.