Voting is underway in the bypoll to Bellary Rural assembly seat where mining barons Reddy brothers are taking on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) while being its members.
The booths opened at 7 am on Wednesday and will remain open till 5 pm. Over 170,000 people are eligible to vote in the bypoll whose outcome will decide whether the three Reddy brothers, all BJP lawmakers in the state, remain in it or part ways.
They have put up their associate and former minister B Sriramulu as an independent candidate after making him resign both from the BJP and the assembly, to which he was elected in May 2008 from this constituency.
The BJP has fielded Bellary businessman P Gadhilingappa, who is contesting for the assembly for the first time.
Over 2,500 police personnel have been deployed to ensure incident-free voting in the 195 booths, of which over 100 are considered sensitive and 15 very sensitive, meaning prone to possible violence or attempts at fraudulent voting or attempts to disrupt balloting or scare voters from coming to the booths.
Of the three brothers, the most vocal Gali Janardhana Reddy, former tourism minister, is in Hyderabad's Chanchalaguda jail since Sep 5 in connection with illegal mining case in Andhra Pradesh.
The younger Gali Somashekara has been suspended from BJP along with two Lok Sahba members and three other state lawmakers for supporting Sriramulu.
The elder, Gali Karunakara, has not been seen in public since mid-Septmeber. He and Somashekara are assembly members while Janardhana is in the legislative council.
Congress nominee is B Ramprasad who had lost to Sriramulu in the 2008 polls. The Janata Dal-Secular is not contesting. Votes will be counted on December 4.
Bellary is about 300 km from Bangalore and the rural seat is reserved for the Scheduled Tribes.
The brothers were a pampered lot in the BJP not long ago because of the financial clout they wielded from the billions of rupees they made from iron ore mining, most of it allegedly from illegal mining and export.
For the BJP, it is a prestige issue as it wants to show that it is the party and not the individual that matters.
A defeat has the potential to bring down the DV Sadananda Gowda ministry as the Reddy brothers claim the support of around 14 of the BJP's 119 lawmakers in the 225-member assembly that includes one nominated member.
The battle is essentially between Sriramulu and Gadilingappa.
Sriramulu has announced that he will float a new party after results are out on December 4. He says he is waiting for Janardhana Reddy to come out of jail to finalise details of the new outfit.