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Bengaluru: The Congress in Karnataka is actively reaching out to the Vokkaliga community in the old Mysuru region to win back some of its support or risk being further alienated by two dominant caste groups in the state and depend on the highly fragmented backward classes ahead of the bypolls.

“Since it’s back to being a fight between Congress and JD(S), we have to reach out or lose out," said one person aware of the developments, requesting not to be named.

The party has given instructions to its workers to engage voters from Vokkaliga community, among other groups, on social media and other campaigns since Saturday, at least three people aware of the developments said.

The collapse of the coalition, giving the Congress an opportunity to win back its disenchanted workers and reach out to a community that has been consolidating behind former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda-led JD(S).

The seat sharing agreement with the JD(S) in the Lok Sabha elections forced the Congress to cede several constituencies in the Vokkaliga heartland to the JD(S) that pushed workers on both sides to drift towards the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that won a record 25 out of the 28 parliamentary seats in the state.

In a recent interview with Mint, Deve Gowda said the grassroots level workers never accepted the alliance that not just led to the defeat of the former prime minister but also H.D.Kumaraswamy’s son, Nikhil from Mandya, that was believed to be a JD(S) bastion.

“But the anger is more towards Siddaramaiah than the Congress," said another person associated with the Congress, requesting not to be named.

Former legislators like N. Chaluvaraya Swamy, A.B.Ramesh BandiSiddegowda and H.C. Balakrishna among others have been roped in for the campaign, at least two of the three people cited above said.

The fact that Deve Gowda and H.D.Kumaraswamy have accused Siddaramaiah of engineering the collapse of the coalition by colluding with B.S.Yediyurappa of the BJP is unlikely to help matters for the Congress in the eyes of a community that favours the JD(S), seen as a Vokkaliga-backed party.

The state will see at least 17 constituencies go the bypolls, of which the Congress won 14 in 2018 and JD(S) three. Dates for the bypolls are yet to be announced but the Congress is hoping to get a headstart by reaching out to its workers and the community.

The Vokkaligas started to drift away from the Congress since 2013 when Siddaramaiah, as chief minister, started to undercut the importance given to the two dominant communities in favour of AHINDA (acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits) and especially his own Kuruba community.

The move to grant a separate religious minority status to the Lingayats had only made matters worse for Siddaramaiah and the Congress before the 2018 polls.

A section of the party workers even suggested D.K. Shivakumar be made the state president of the Congress to help win back Vokkaliga support

--a proposal that Siddaramaiah has resisted due to the ongoing fight for the leader of Opposition post within the party.

With an inactive central leadership, the Congress is dependent on Siddaramaiah despite his alleged role in destabilising the coalition, leaving him in charge of party that has seen infighting peak over the last one year.

The fight between the Congress and JD(S) is helping the BJP make inroads into southern districts where it has little or no presence and use Karnataka as a platform to penetrate into Tamil Nadu and Kerala, where it has little or no presence at all.

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