Bangalore: A tense waiting period has begun for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Karnataka ahead of Sunday's byelection to the Udupi-Chikmagalur Lok Sabha seat whose outcome will have a major impact on the party's fortunes.
Over 1.24 million people, of them over 635,000 women, are eligible to vote Sunday in the bypoll caused by the BJP's D.V. Sadananda Gowda quitting the seat after he became chief minister Aug 4 last year, succeeding corruption-scarred B.S. Yeddyurappa.
The vote count is March 21.
The battle is mainly between the BJP's youth leader V. Sunil Kumar and Congress' K. Jayaprakash Hegde, a former minister, though the Janata Dal-Secular has also fielded its nominee, S.L. Bhoje Gowda, working president of the party's Chikmagalur unit.
Scandals of the BJP in the state and the Congress at the central government level dominated the campaign for the seat spread over two districts - Udupi, a temple town on the west coast, and Chikmagalur, known for coffee plantations.
The BJP's efforts to retain the seat have been overshadowed by the infighting in the party over Yeddyurappa's bid to get back the chief minister's chair and his attacks on Gowda and state party chief K.S. Eshwarappa.
Yeddyurappa, who was forced to quit July 31 last year over corruption charges, has boycotted the campaign, apparently to show that the party cannot win elections without him.
He has been pressuring the party central leaders to give him full control over the government and the party in the state if they are against re-instating him.
Hence retaining the seat has become critical for the survival of the BJP government in the state. The party came to power for the first time in the state in May 2008.
Since Gowda had won the seat in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, he led the campaign, along with Eshwarappa, for the party candidate.
The Congress, which has suffered defeats in most of the over 20 assembly bypolls held after the BJP came to power, is hoping to benefit from the deep divisions in the ruling party and scandals surrounding Yeddyurappa and at least 20 of the 120 BJP legislators.
The party has taken the bypoll pretty seriously as a win will boost its morale ahead of the assembly polls due April-May next year, though they may be held earlier if the BJP loses in Udupi-Chikmagalur.
The Congress made its general secretary and former minister Oscar Fernandes in charge of the campaign, though generally state unit heads are given that responsibility, particularly for byelections.
It deployed all its ministers in New Delhi - External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, Corporate Affairs Minister M. Veerappa Moily, Labour Minister Mallikarjun Kharge and Minister of State for Railways K.H. Muniyappa - and assigned them areas in the constituency for intensive campaigning.