Ballari Worry For BJP In Karnataka By-Polls, Congress Takes Early Lead

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In an early boost for Karnataka's ruling coalition, the Congress took a surprise lead in BJP's fort Ballari as votes cast in by-polls in three parliamentary and two assembly seats were counted this morning.

Congress candidate VS Ugrappa is ahead of his nearest rival, the BJP's V Shantha, in the Ballari Lok Sabha seat, which has voted BJP since 2004 and is the stronghold of the mining barons, the Reddy brothers.

V Shantha is the sister of BJP leader B Sriramulu, who vacated the constituency to contest the assembly elections in May.

The ruling Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) or JD(S) alliance campaigned hard in this constituency in north Karnataka, encouraged by its performance in the assembly elections; it won six of the eight assembly segments in Ballari.

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The fight in Ballari is also a test for the Congress's DK Shivakumar, who played a key role in the party's alliance with Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy's JDS and in ensuring that the BJP could not form the government in Karnataka despite winning the most number of seats. Mr Shivakumar oversaw the campaign for the Congress candidate.

In 1999, Ballari famously hosted the electoral contest between Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, now Union Minister. Sonia Gandhi won that round in what had been a Congress stronghold since independence.

The BJP won the seat in the next election and never looked back.

Over the years, Ballari stayed firmly in the grip of Janardana Reddy and his brothers and their closest aide Sriramulu, the BJP's key man in Karnataka.

Ahead of the 2019 national election, the by-poll results are seen as a test for the Janata Dal Secular-Congress alliance.

The terms for the Ballari, Shivamogga and Mandya seats will be extremely short with the Lok Sabha elections due early next year.

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