Local polls: Clear message to parties

There is no real winner in the just-concluded elections to the rural local bodies – Zilla Panchayat (ZP) and Taluk Panchayat (TP) – in Karnataka. Over one-third of the 30 ZPs and about 25 per cent of the 175 TPs spread across the state produced hung verdicts. The ruling Congress has emerged as the number one party, winning a majority in 10 ZPs and 56 TPs, and with a simple majority in seven and 56, respectively, as its main rival, the BJP, came a close second. While leaders of both these parties will woo the Janata Dal (Secular), the party which ended up a distant third in the race, to take control of the hung district and taluk panchayat bodies, this will not change the ground realities thrown up by the election results for each of the three political parties.
These local bodies’ election results fairly reflect the organisational strengths and weaknesses of each of the competing parties at the grassroots level. In recent years, the Congress has struggled in parliamentary and assembly elections because of its organisational shortcomings. The party owed its return to power in the state in May 2013 to an acute anti-incumbency voter sentiment against the then ruling BJP. But the return to power provided the Congress leadership an opportunity to rebuild its organisation at the grassroots level. But the ZP and TP results do not suggest any significant organisational rebound. This should be a cause for worry to the party.  Much as Chief Minister Siddaramaiah might assert that the results are not a referendum on his government’s performance, it is obvious that he and his colleagues are worried and there is already a talk of revamping the Siddaramaiah ministry to refurbish the image of the party and the government.  
The BJP too, it is clear, hasn’t yet established itself organisationally in some regions of the state, particularly in the Old Mysore districts of Mandya, Hassan, Kolar and Chikkaballapur. Perhaps, because of this, the JD(S) continues to be a relevant force as  an alternative to the Congress in the Old Mysore region. But the BJP’s inability to make headway in the Old Mysore region has hardly brought cheers to the JD(S). In fact, party patriarch H D Deve Gowda is perhaps the only leader to be very candid in admitting that the results held a mirror to his party’s organisational decline. The JD(S) has ceded space to the Congress in seve-ral Old Mysore region districts, besides losing whatever inroads it had made in other parts of the state. The results are, therefore, a clear message to the top leadership of each of the three parties to rebuild their armies before the next big electoral battle. 

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