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Cong-JD(S) blow to BJP in Karnataka bypolls, saffron party loses in Ballari

Bengaluru: In an emphatic endorsement of Karnataka's ruling JD(S)-Congress coalition by the voters, its candidates Tuesday won both the assembly constituencies and two of the three Lok Sabha seats in the bitterly fought by-polls held on Saturday. The by-elections came as a major setback for the main opposition BJP ahead of the 2019 elections with the party losing the Ballari Lok Sabha seat, considered a stronghold of the controversial mining barons -- the Reddy brothers. Mine-rich Ballari, over which the brothers once had a vice-like grip, had remained a BJP stronghold since 2004.

V S Ugrappa of the Congress won the Ballari seat by a margin of more than 2.43 lakh votes defeating BJP's J Shantha, the sister of B Sriramulu, a key aide of the Reddys and former MP from there. Sriramulu is considered a close confidant of Janardhana Reddy, but the BJP had distanced itself from the mining baron in the May assembly polls. In Shivamogga, the pocket borough of the leader of the Opposition and former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa, his son B Y Raghavendra trounced his JD(S) rival Madhu Bangarappa by 52,148 votes in a closely-fought contest. Madhu is the son of former Congress chief minister, the late S Bangarappa.

Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy's wife Anitha bagged the Ramanagara assembly seat by a big margin of 1,09,137 against her nearest rival BJP's L Chandrashekar, who had pulled out of the contest, but still officially remains the party candidate. Chandrashekhar, who had joined the BJP ahead of the polls returned to the Congress weeks later, leaving the saffron party red-faced and the field open for a walkover for Anitha Kumaraswamy. Ramanagara seat fell vacant after Kumaraswamy preferred to retain Chennapatna, the other constituency from where he had won. In Jamkhandi assembly segment, Congress candidate Anand Nyamgouda defeated BJP's Srikant Kulkarni by a margin of 39,480 votes, riding a sympathy wave following his father and sitting MLA Siddu Nyamagouda's death in a road accident. JD(S) candidate L R Shivarame Gowda scored a big victory in Mandya, defeating BJP's Siddaramaiah, a political green horn and a former civil servant by a margin of 3,24,943 votes. Mandya is a stronghold of the Vokkaliga community to which JD(S) supremo and former prime minister H D Deve Gowda belongs.

With Tuesday's victory, the Congress-JD(S) alliance's tally will go up to 120 seats in the 224 member assembly, where the BJP has 104 MLAs. Elated over the performance of the ruling alliance candidates, jubilant Congress workers distributed sweets and broke coconuts at various places. Karnataka Congress president Dinesh Gundu Rao claimed that the results reflected the disenchantment of people with the BJP. "Look at the margins... It's clear that people are fed up with the BJP. This anti-people, anti-farmer, anti-women government at the Centre must go. All forces need to come together to take on the BJP. The BJP will be wiped out of Karnataka in 2019 (Lok Sabha polls). If it is wiped out in Karnataka, it will be wiped out in the entire south India," he said.

Karnataka is the only south Indian state where the BJP has been in power. The by-elections for three Lok Sabha seats were necessitated after Yeddyurappa and Sriramulu of the BJP and C S Puttaraju of the JD(S) vacated Shivamogga, Ballari and Mandya following their election to the assembly in May. Bypolls to Jamkhandi seat was necessitated following the death of sitting Congress MLA Siddu Nyamagouda, while Ramanagara fellvacant after Kumaraswamy gave it up.