In Karnataka, Ballari Next Big Challenge For Congress, HD Kumaraswamy

The ruling Congress-JD(S) combine, however, is going all out to wrest this political prize, which had been a Congress stronghold till 1999, when Sushma Swaraj took on Sonia Gandhi.


Congress-JD(S) alliance face a new challenge as Karnataka's Ballari choses a new parliamentarian Saturday


Karnataka's Ballari will choose a new parliamentarian on Saturday to replace B Sriramulu, who is now representing a part of the Chitradurga district in the state assembly. The new lawmaker, though, will be a placeholder, filling in till next year's general elections. The BJP is fielding Mr Sriramulu's sister J Shanta, who had won an election from the area in 2009.

The ruling Congress-JD(S) combine, however, is going all out to wrest this political prize, which had been a Congress stronghold till 1999, when Sushma Swaraj took on Sonia Gandhi. Ms Swaraj lost that election, but it marked the beginning of the BJP rise in the district, where the Reddy brothers, who are now mining barons, had made their base.

A close aide of the Reddys, Mr Sriramulu told NDTV, "They (the ruling allies) think winning Ballari is like winning Karnataka."

On his sister's candidature and allegations of nepotism, Mr Sriramulu said, "This is a constituency reserved for scheduled castes - the candidate had to be someone from the community. I did ask many others to contest. They were not interested in contesting a by-poll."

Lawmakers and ministers during the earlier BJP government in the state, the Reddy brothers have been accused of conducting largescale illegal mining across the iron-ore-rich district. In the last assembly elections, the BJP gave ticket to Gali Somashekhara Reddy and Gali Karunakara Reddy.

Gali Janardhana Reddy, a former minister who has the bulk of accusations against him, did not contest.

But in the elections conducted in May, six out of the eight Assembly seats in the area were won by the Congress, which the party sees as a mark of hope for wresting the parliamentary seat from the BJP.  

The coalition candidate is the Congress's V S Ugrappa and the party's controversial trouble shooter, DK Shivakumar, is leading the party's campaign. The battle is being seen as between Sriramulu and the coalition.

HD Deve Gowda, former Prime Minister and patriarch of Janata Dal United, who campaigned on the ground, told NDTV said it was a test for the coalition.

"It doesn't matter if Sriramulu's sister is contesting... We will win hands down and send out a message that we should contest together under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi," he said.

"Sriramulu's frequent resignations would backfire on him," Mr Ugrappa told NDTV. "People here would be angry that he is not keeping his promise. They elect him and then he resigns."

Mr Sriramulu, though, is confident.

"Shivakumar has barely come to this district. I have been given the brief to defeat the Congress here," Mr Sriramulu told NDTV. The people, he said, have no faith in the state government. "They have not kept their promises - like waiving farmers' loans. The JDS and Congress manifestos have not been upheld," he added.

This is how, he said, the Congress lost its support in Ballari, where it was in power for decades. "Ballari used to be like Amethi for them," he said. "But for years, they did nothing for Ballari. BJP has developed highways here under Gadkari. Hundreds of crores have been allotted for highways. Hampi has Rs 3,000 crores allotted for development and maintenance," he added.

Mr Sriramulu said his closeness to the Reddy brothers would not harm his image. "My friendship with Janardhan Reddy goes back to childhood and schooldays. We were friends when they had no money, and also when they became rich. I have no business ties with the Reddys. I am a politician but I have my friendships," he added.

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