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Posted 31 Oct 2018 12:52 PM

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A power struggle between two powerful leaders in the Congress in Karnataka has surfaced again as the party attempts to wrest Ballari Lok Sabha seat from the BJP in a bypoll on November 3.

Ministers D K Shivakumar and Ramesh Jharkiholi have crossed swords over the Ballari campaign. They were at loggerheads a couple of months ago over an alleged attempt by Shivakumar to gain control of a cooperative bank in Jharkiholi’s home district Belagavi.

The Congress has fielded former MLC V S Ugrappa as its candidate in Ballari constituency, reserved for Scheduled Tribes, and Shivakumar is heading the campaign. The leadership had initially drafted Jharkiholi — an ST leader — for campaigning, but has now asked him to stay away over fears that his rivalry with Shivakumar could hurt the party. Jharkiholi had been assigned the task of campaigning in Kudligi region of Ballari, but was soon asked to withdraw from the campaign.

The Ballari bypoll has been necessitated by the resignation of B Sreeramulu of the BJP — a Valmiki Nayak tribe leader who has dominated Ballari politics for over a decade with the help of his close friend G Janardhan Reddy, a mining baron and former minister who is currently facing prosecution by the CBI for operating an illegal mining mafia in the region between 2008 and 2011. Sreeramulu resigned as MP in May after he was elected to the state assembly on a BJP ticket.

The BJP has fielded Sreeramulu’s proxy, his sister and former MP J Shanta, for the Ballari bypoll in an effort to ensure that it retains control of the constituency.

Ugrappa, the Congress candidate, is not a Ballari local and has been fielded on account of his presence as a prominent campaigner against the illegal mining mafia a few years ago and his proximity to former chief minister Siddaramaiah. “Ugrappa has emerged as an able leader. He is popular as a leader of the Nayak community. The people of Ballari will support him,’’ Municipal Administration Minister Jarkiholi had said after he was drafted to campaign for Ugrappa.

One of the reasons for the Congress asking Jharkiholi to stay away from Ballari is believed to be his criticism of Shivakumar’s comments on the previous Siddaramaiah-led Congress government’s decision to recommend status of separate religion for the Lingayat community. Shivakumar, with an eye seemingly on a sizable Lingayat population in Ballari, had a few days ago labelled the move to grant minority status to Lingayats a blunder of the Congress and had sought forgiveness of the community. Reacting to this statement, Jharkiholi had said that Shivakumar “should mind his own business”. The Belagavi leader also refused to campaign alongside Shivakumar, forcing the Congress to pull him out of it.

In September, the Jharkiholi brothers raised a banner of revolt after a Congress faction in Belagavi led by MLA and state women’s Congress president Lakshmi Hebbalkar — who owes allegiance to Energy Minister Shivakumar —attempted to gain control of the Primary Land Development Bank in Belagavi against their wishes. Despite the simmering tension between Jharkiholi and Shivakumar, Congress state president Dinesh Gundu Rao has stated that this personal rivalry will not affect the party in the Lok Sabha bypoll.

The Congress has now asked local leaders to handle the campaign in Kudligi region, where Congress MLA B Nagendra Babu, a former aide of Sreeramulu, has been upset over the decision to overlook his brother for the bypoll.

An advantage Congress enjoys is the support of its coalition partner, JDS — JDS chief H D Deve Gowda campaigned along with Siddaramaiah in Ballari .

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