Karnataka Bypolls: Contest wide open

All these could pose formidable challenges to the BJP government which is banking on winning at least 7-8 seats to ensure its stability.

The much-awaited Supreme Court judgement in the disqualified MLAs case was out a few days ago. The Court, while expressing its displeasure at the parties not approaching the High Court of Karnataka, came up with a balancing act by upholding their disqualification, but allowing them to contest byelections. 

In a way, the SC judgement is in tune with the stand that the Election Commission took immediately after disqualification that it had no objection to the disqualified MLAs contesting the byelections. 

Now that the last date for filing of nominations is over, it is imperative to look at the contest from the point of view of the three parties - the BJP, the Congress and the JD(S). 

As for the BJP, the Supreme Court judgement came as a breather at one level as it has not only admitted the disqualified MLAs to its party fold but has given tickets to 13 of them to contest the byelections. 

The BJP high command weakened after the Haryana and Maharashtra Assembly elections and defection of its prominent leaders in Jharkhand, gave its approval to the decision to field the newly joined disqualified MLAs. A deeper analysis reveals that there was no unanimity at the level of office-bearers regarding the decision. If one adds to it the rebel candidates, particularly in the Hosakote constituency and the problems faced by the party as two of its prominent members have crossed over to the Congress in Belagavi district, the picture of the weaknesses of the party becomes clearer. 

At a more serious level, the BJP has to deal with the displeasure of many of its loyalist members who have been denied tickets following its decision to field the new entrants to the party. The party cadre too finds it difficult to campaign for them as they had all along opposed them. 

Further, it is an open secret that Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa and BJP state president Nalin Kumar Kateel do not see eye to eye on many issues. It is to be seen how their loyalists within the party are going to cooperate during the campaign. 

The party also faces the ire of the voters in northern Karnataka who faced the brunt of the havoc caused by the recent floods when their elected representatives camped in a luxury hotel in Mumbai unmindful of the voter’s woes. Of course, Yediyurappa personally visited those constituencies and allocated large sums of money to mollify the voters.

All these could pose formidable challenges to the BJP government which is banking on winning at least 7-8 seats to ensure its stability. The senior leaders are, however, exuding confidence that the party cadres would finally work unitedly for the success of the disqualified new entrants to the organisation. One is not sure what would be the level of involvement of PM Modi and BJP president Amit Shah in the campaign process as they were targeted by the new entrants when they were in the Congress and JD(S). In any case, it may not be a cakewalk for the party at the hustling.

Unethical acts

In regard to the Congress, though it is exposing the unethical acts of the BJP in toppling the coalition government by wooing the disqualified MLAs to its side, it has failed to project a picture of unity among its leaders. There is considerable discontent among many of the senior leaders about the undue influence wielded by senior leader Siddaramaiah in the allotment of tickets to the candidates for the bypolls, disregarding the names suggested by many senior leaders. Reports have it that Siddaramaiah chose his loyalists, especially Kurubas, ignoring the social profile of the voters in key constituencies in northern Karnataka, which may affect Congress’ electoral fortunes.  Also, factionalism, which is the bane of the Congress,  is exacerbated by the insider-outsider tussle within the organisation, between the old-timers in the party and Siddaramaiah. 

As things stand, it is not known what would be the level of involvement of senior, controversial leader D K Shivakumar who is an election winner for the party. In any case, with the collapse of the Congress-JD(S) coalition, the electoral outcome may not have a significant bearing on the position of the Congress. Winning more seats would boost the confidence of the party. A dismal performance would weaken the hold of the Siddaramaiah and KPCC chief Dinesh Gundurao duo over the party.

The third, but by no means a less important player in Karnataka politics, the JD(S), has its own set of problems as the by-election campaign gets underway. The party has not been able to keep its flock together as a few of its prominent leaders, mainly its then working president  A H Viswanath walked out, during the height of the crisis faced by the coalition government, levelling charges against Kumaraswamy and party supremo H D Deve Gowda.

There are a few other leaders, like G T Deve Gowda and those expelled, who are veering round to the BJP. Frankly, the regional party doesn’t seem to have winnable candidates in the electoral fray especially in northern Karnataka where the bulk of the bypolls are going to be held. Weaknesses in the organisational and resources front may affect the party considerably. While party leader Kumaraswamy says his goal is to defeat the BJP, Deve Gowda has issued statements that the Yediyurappa government would be safer for the next three and a half years!

The inability of the party to expand its social base and reach across the state will affect its electoral successes and reduce its bargaining position with the Yediyurappa government. Depending on the outcome of the polls, the JD(S) may decide on extending support from outside or even joining the BJP government, given its hostility towards the Congress. Surely, the days to come are going to be politically interesting

(The writer is former Professor of Political Science and former Dean, Faculty of Arts, Bangalore University)

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