Riding high on M factors money and Muslim votebank B Sriramulu hopes to sail through Bellary bypoll, which has now become an engaging triangular fight between the BJP, the Congress and him.
The former minister had resigned as a BJP MLA in September, necessitating the by-poll on November 30.
Initially, winning the poll looked like a cakewalk for the sitting MLA.
But with former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa campaigning for BJP candidate Gadilingappa, the competition has only become tougher.
Though Yeddyurappa is rumoured to be covertly supporting Sriramulu, he and his supporters, including ministers V Somanna and Renukacharya, have been camping and campaigning for the party candidate for past three days.
"The way he led the campaign, it showed he is the true leader of the BJP. The public sentiment has changed and the balance is tilting towards us," said Girish Mattennavar, a BJP leader.
In a constituency of 1.7 lakh people, if Lingayats, traditionally BJP supporters, have around 20,000 votes, Nayakas, who belong to Sriramulu's cast, have around 30,000.
But what can change the game in Sriramulu's favour is the support of Muslims. And the estranged BJP leader is likely to gate away with huge share of around 35,000 Muslim votes.
According to political observers, there are a few things working in Sriramulu's favour now. That he is no more with the BJP and that he enjoys support of the JD(S), which is quite influential among the minorities.
And to top it all, the faction-riddled Congress has fielded a weak candidate like Ramaprasad who is unlikely to woo Muslims. Also, the scheduled caste with around 30,000 votes can play a decisive role in the poll.
"Voters across the communities, including Muslims and Dalists, are backing me and I will root out the BJP from Bellary as I did with the Congress last time," said Sriramulu.
As the JD (S) has not fielded its candidate, it has extended full support to the estranged BJP leader. Zamir Ahmed Khan, close confidant of H D Kumaraswamy, has been camping in Bellary for Sriramulu.
According to political observers, the Congress, the third challenger on the block, looks crest-fallen and lackluster when it comes to campaigning.
Though senior Congress leaders, including KPCC president G Parameswar, leader of the opposition in Assembly Siddaramiah, canvassed for the party candidate, lack of co-ordination was evident among them yesterday.