It is just an assembly seat election in Bangalore’s Jayanagar constituency, but its results hold tremendous significance to the 2019 Lok Sabha general elections, now less than a year away. The Congress-Janata Dal-Secular combine wrested the BJP stronghold of Jayanagar assembly that it held for over a decade, albeit with a narrow margin, taking the combine’s strength to 119, in what can be a pointer to the fate of the ruling party at the centre in the general elections. Yet another defeat coming as it does after the Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana losses in Uttar Pradesh, the situation is alarming for its top leadership.
For sure, the dynamics, the issues and the general mood in the national elections would be totally different and one cannot read too much into an assembly result and its import. But why the Jayanagar outcome – Congress candidate Soumya Reddy wresting the seat from the BJP in its stronghold in the city – is important is because it proves that the Congress and the JD-S combine will be a formidable opponent in Karnataka for the BJP.
This puts a question mark over the BJP’s ability to retain or better its 2014 performance in Karnataka, the only state in south where it has significant presence, as the new coalition partners have declared they will fight the Lok Sabha polls together, preventing a vote split that benefits the BJP. It had won 17 out of the 28 seats from its gateway to south India in 2014 general elections, fighting on its own. The Congress had nine and the JD-S two seats when they fought separately, allowing the BJP to walk away with the lion’s share.
But this time around, it is not just in Karnataka, but across south India the BJP will be finding the going much tougher than it had earlier anticipated. The Modi-Shah relentless electoral machine would be driving into a huge road block in South India, as situation on the ground at present indicates. In 2014, the BJP won 21 of the total 130 seats in South India.
Notwithstanding all its protestations, the BJP is a prisoner of perception in South as a Northern pro-Hindi and Hindutva party and as such will first have to battle this, as John Arokiaswamy, a perception strategist who worked for the Congress party in recent Karnataka assembly elections, asserts.
In 2019 general elections, even in Karnataka the BJP will have to sweat it more. But the more important question, from the BJP perspective is, whether it can make up for possible losses in Karnataka from another neighbouring state?
If we take the case of Tamil Nadu, at state with 39 Lok Sabha seats, the BJP’s perceived role in the state politics and how it is seen as propping up a regime that upturned most of the major stands of Jayalalithaa – on GST, on NEET – could go well against it.
In the last general elections, the BJP had a non-AIADMK, non-DMK alliance and won two seats – one of its own and another for the then ally Pattali Makkal Katchi. But now, that alliance had broken down and the BJP is in search of new allies.
Speculation is rife that the BJP could ally with the ruling AIADMK, but it is not the same party it was under Jayalalithaa and could prove to be a liability for the BJP. Since there is a strong perception that the BJP controlled the Tamil Nadu government, any party aligning with the BJP may risk suffering collateral damage.
Not many analysts give the BJP any seats from Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. Instead, the BJP could be exploring post-poll allies during government formation. Tamil Nadu also presents an interesting phenomenon of two superstars – Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan -- taking on each other and possibly queering the pitch further. At present, it is their film business that is getting promoted by the political noises they are making. Sources close to Rajinikanth hint at the Thalaivar starting own party and aligning with the BJP.
In 2014, even the great NAMO wave could do precious little to help the BJP. It could win just one seat in Tamil Nadu, courtesy the Congress candidate who cut into the AIADMK votes. Kerala continued to be a no-go areas then and could remain so even in 2019.
In neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, the BJP won three seats with the help of its ally, Telugu Desam party when the AP was the combined state. Now, the BJP is taking on the TDP which has walked out of the NDA and could tie up with the YSR Congress party or with film star-turned politician Pawan Kalyan. In Andhra there are 25 seats up for grabs and in Telangana 17, making up for 42 in between them.
TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu, considered one of the most astute of political weather cocks in the nation, has switched sides, at the proverbial eleventh hour, so to speak. He was seen on the same dais as Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav, Sitaram Yechury, HD Kumaraswamy and others and is part and parcel of the political grouping that wants to ensure straight BJP versus a common candidate in at least 400 seats of the total 544.
In Andhra Pradesh, anti-BJP sentiments are also peaking because of its refusal to grant AP Special Status. In Telangana too, the BJP without any powerful ally does not have much prospects to speak of. Telangana Chief Minister KC Ramachandra Rao has also taken an anti-BJP stance, which is bad news for the BJP as far as it’s southern sojourn is concerned.
South India can hardly be depended upon to make up for losses that the BJP may suffer in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where it performed well in the last general elections.