Signals emanating from the ground in Karnataka are worrying for the Bharatiya Janata Party as it lost four of the five by-elections to three Lok Sabha and two state assembly seats that were held earlier this month. By winning four of the five seats in the by-elections to the Lok Sabha and the Assembly, the Congress-Janata Dal-Secular combine has shown that its coalition was working on the ground.
What is significant is that despite the pin pricks from disgruntled elements in the two coalition partners, the Congress and JD-S managed to convince the voters they were there to stay and work for them.
Clearly, the chemistry is being seen to be working on the ground as the alliance picked up two seats and both the assembly seats – Ramanagara and Jamkhandi – with the two alliance partners contesting one each.
More important, the Opposition victory in two of the three Lok Sabha by-polls indicated that the Narendra Modi government has to worry as this puts a question mark on its ability match or better its 2014 performance in the state.
In the 2014 general elections to Lok Sabha, the BJP won 17 of the total 28 on offer in the state, when the issues were different as also the coalition of political forces. The Congress and the JD-S were fighting separately then, but this time around in 2019, both the coalition partners have announced that they will contest the Lok Sabha polls jointly. For the BJP, a good performance in Karnataka is very important, as it is bound to be losing seats in the states where it peaked last time around in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.
The BJP was looking to scale up its ambitions in South India and Karnataka is its gateway to the South.
Barring the Shivamoga Lok Sabha seat that Yeddyurappa’s son, BY Raghavendra, all the other candidates of the BJP were trailing since counting began early in the morning and lost by the time the results were announced late in the afternoon.
In fact, the victory margin in Shivamoga came down so drastically, to about 10 per cent of its previous victory margin of three lakh votes, should also be a matter of concern for the BJP leadership.
Vivek Reddy, Karnataka BJP spokesperson, admitted that loss of Bellary and Shivamoga victory margin, was a reminder for introspection. It is no reflection on the performance of the Modi government, he said.
What the bye-elections results prove is that the Congress and Janata Dal (S) alliance is holding and showing signs of solidity, despite the BJP efforts to paint it as an opportunistic one. The people of Karnataka are reposing their faith in the alliance, much to the relief of the two coalition partners.
For the BJP, the loss of Bellary is particularly a significant one in that it is a seat that it won consistently since 2004 general elections and was considered the strong hold of the infamous Bellary brothers. It is the sister of mining baron B Sriramulu, Shanti, who lost out to Congress candidate VC Ugrappa. Here, the in-charge for the Congress was its strongman DK Shivakumar, who was the person responsible for saving the party MLAs from poaching, whether they were from Maharashtra, Gujarat or Karnataka. The massive majority of victory in Bellary is what must be a worrying factor for the BJP, indicating that there could some disenchantment with the Modi government as well.
In fact, the BJP has had a massive embarrassment ahead of the bye-elections, the BJP candidate from Ramanagara L Chandrashekhar left the party and joined the Congress, dealing it a body blow. It is being seen as a personal loss of face for the BJP state unit chief and leader of the opposition BS Yeddyurappa who was instrumental in candidate selection.
More significantly, with the two victories in the assembly by-polls the combined strength of the Congress and the JD-S has become 120 and is absolutely safe. During the campaign as well and in private conversations, the BJP leaders used to talk about “felling the government” and destabilising it. Yeddyurappa even tried to lure in some Congress and JD-S MLAs, but failed to bring in the requisite numbers. The results of the Karnataka by-polls are, indeed, a morale booster for the JD-S and the Congress for the 2019 general elections. What the Congress leaders hope is that they could have a domino effect in the general elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh that are taking place in November and December.