Congress trounces combined opposition in Karnataka bypolls

Karnataka chief minister K Siddaramaiah today came through his first serious test with flying colours, as his Congress party won both the Lok Sabha by-elections in the state, wresting them from the incumbent Janata Dal (S) members by handsome margins.

The results of the 21 August by-elections, declared today, are a huge boost to the four-month-old Congress government in Karnataka, as they are indicators of the trend for the general elections eight months from now. Both the seats were won by political greenhorns, making their electoral debut with a leap into Parliament.

Kannada actress Ramya won from Mandya, and D K Suresh Kumar, brother of senior state legislator and Congress leader D K Shiva Kumar, won from neighbouring Bangalore Rural. This seat was held by none less than former chief minister H D Kumaraswamy, who won it in 2009.

The by-elections became necessary after Kumaraswamy and his colleague from Mandya, N Cheluvaraswamy, resigned their parliamentary seats after they were elected to the legislative assembly in May, having chosen to focus on state rather than central politics.

Ramya, a well-known film star in Karnataka, defeated C S Puttaraju of the JD(S) by over 47,000 votes and Suresh Kumar trounced Kumaraswamy's wife Anitha by over 100,000 votes.

The victory was particularly resounding for the Congress as the opposition had put aside party differences to field common candidates in both constituencies. The victory thus represents a defeat of the entire opposition, including the Bharatiya Janata Party, rather than the JD (S) alone.

The teaming up of the JD (S) with the BJP does not seem to go down well with Karnataka voters. The last time the two teamed up was in 2008, when they lost the assembly elections.

The results are a big blow to the Deve Gowda family, more so to one-time prime minister H D Deve Gowda, who at the age of 81 years worked the streets of Bangalore Rural and Mandya seeking votes for his daughter-in-law Anitha, and shed tears at public meetings.

The 30-year-old actress Ramya, who was a last-minute surprise candidate, apparently helped bring about some unity in the state Congress organisation, riven as usual by personal ambitions.

Former chief minister S M Krishna and housing minister M H Ambareesh (another retired actor), who don't see eye to eye, both campaigned for Ramya, though without sharing a platform.

Getting Ramya elected had become vital for the Mandya Congress unit if it wanted to stake claims in appointments of chairpersons to the lucrative state boards and corporations to be made shortly.