Bangalore, May 18 (IANS) The Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) has fielded its own candidate for the Ullal assembly by-poll in Karnataka next month, putting its fragile ties with ruling ally Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under severe strain.
The BJP was expecting its coalition partner to return the favour it had granted last year by not fielding a nominee in the Chamundeshwari constituency in Mysore district, as the JD-S was desperate to defeat its former star-turned-rebel Siddaramaiah.
Siddaramaiah, a protÃ©gÃ© of JD-S president and former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda, became his bitter critic in the wake of Gowda promoting his sons, particularly the younger son H.D. Kumaraswamy who joined hands with the BJP to topple the Congress-JD-S coalition government and become the chief minister.
After keeping the BJP on tenterhooks ever since the poll schedule was announced, the JD-S had its nominee Aboobacker Natekal, a local businessmen, file his papers in the Muslim-dominated constituency on Tuesday, the last day of nominations.
Even on Monday, state BJP president D.V. Sadanada Gowda was telling reporters in Mangalore, the headquarters of the coastal district of Dakshina Kannada, that he was confident that the JD-S would support his party nominee.
Deve Gowda has been away in Goa for the last few days trying to put up JD-S candidates for polls to the 40-member assembly. Gowda is keen to get national status for his party and hence the gamble in the coastal state which has a sizeable Kannada speaking population. JD-S leaders here have no idea how many candidates their leader plans to field and whether his efforts to forge alliances with smaller players there is bearing fruit.
The Congress too has fielded a minority candidate, U.T. Khader. His father U.T. Fareed had held the seat and the by-poll was necessitated by his demise. BJP’s nominee Chandashekar Uchil had lost to Fareed in the 2004 polls.
The BJP had won the seat in 1994 and was a close loser in 1999 and 2004. It is a matter of prestige for the party to regain the seat as it is now in power and the saffron influence is on the increase in the coastal areas.
There is speculation that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi may be roped in for the campaign along with former president Venkaiah Naidu. BJP leaders are, however, not willing to confirm whether they will need Modi to win the poll.
The Congress is banking on state leaders as it is a by-poll and is hoping that the three heavyweights of Dakshina Kannada politics, central minister Oscar Fernandes, former union minister B. Janardhana Poojary and Administrative Reforms Commission chairman and former chief minister Veerappa Moily will put up a united face and work for the party’s win.
The JD-S entry has both the Congress and BJP worried. The Congress sees it as a ploy to divide minority votes and help the BJP. But the BJP sees Gowda’s move as intended to embarrass it and regain some credibility among the minorities who are upset with the JD-S for allying with the saffron party.
Gowda, the wily politician that he is, is in a win-win situation even if his party nominee does not win. If the BJP wins he can take credit for splitting the minority votes and helping it. In case the BJP loses, he will be happy that it will be that much more dependent on him, now that it is already weakened by the Uttar Pradesh poll debacle.
With Kumaraswamy’s 20-month term as chief minister ending in a few months, Gowda has already begun dictating terms on which he will agree to transfer power to the BJP. Even a fair show by his party in Ullal will strengthen his bargaining power.
BJP leader B.S. Yediyurappa, who is the present deputy chief minister, is very keen to assume the chief ministership. So too his party as, if it happens, this will be the first time the BJP will be in power in the south, though as a coalition partner.
The remote Ullal constituency on the Arabian sea coast never played such a significant role as it will now on the future of the coalition and the morale of the BJP in the state.