Advantage Cong-JD(S)

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The results of the three Lok Sabha and two assembly by-elections are out. Before getting down to an analysis of the outcome, let’s analyse the manner in which the by-elections themselves panned out. The assembly by-elections became necessary as Kumaraswamy resigned the Ramanagara seat after winning in both the Ramanagara and Channapatna constituencies in the assembly elections in May. That of Jamakhandi was necessitated by the demise of MLA Siddu Nyamagouda.

The Lok Sabha bypolls became necessary following the resignation of the incumbents who got elected to the state assembly. Though the LS bypolls were technically necessary, the political parties felt it was unnecessary in view of the short tenure of the winning candidates given the impending general elections in 2019. The citizens, too, saw the LS bypolls as a waste of public money. But the Election Commission had to conduct the polls as a requirement of parliamentary democracy. The parties had no choice but to fall in line.

It is pertinent to dwell on the approach of the Congress-JD(S) coalition and the BJP to these polls. The Congress and JD(S) decided immediately that they would fight the bypolls unitedly by agreeing on which party would field candidates keeping in mind their strengths in the five constituencies. Accordingly, they agreed that the JD(S) would put up candidates in Mandya and Ramanagara, both being party bastions. Shivarame Gowda and Anitha Kumaraswamy were chosen as candidates for Mandya and Ramanagara respectively.

The Congress decided to put up candidates in Ballari and Jamakhandhi in view of its proven base and the JD(S)’s relative weakness there. Ugrappa and Anand Nyamagouda, the son of Siddu Nyamagouda, became the candidates for Ballari and Jamakhandi respectively. As for Shivamogga, after much discussion, it was suggested by senior leaders of the Congress itself that the JD(S) field Madhu Bangarappa as the candidate. The announcement came only a few days before the last date for filing nominations.

The BJP, which is strong in Shivamogga, decided to nominate former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa‘s son and former MP Raghavendra as its candidate. Being weak in Mandya and Ramanagara, BJP decided to field Dr Siddaramaiah in Mandya and the defector from the Congress L Chandrashekar in Ramanagara. To the utter embarrassment of the party, Chandrashekar withdrew from the race 48 hours before the election and rejoined Congress, making Anitha Kumaraswamy‘s victory a cakewalk.

Chandrashekhar’s action was a brazen act of political opportunism and has shown the new depths to which politics can degenerate, inviting criticism even from his father and present Congress MLC Lingappa.

In Ballari, the BJP fielded Shantha, B Sriramulu’s sister and former Ballari MP. In Jamakhandi, the party fielded Shrikanth Kulkarni, who had lost in the May elections by only 2,600 votes. 

As for campaigning, former prime minister H D Deve Gowda and former chief minister Siddaramaiah jointly campaigned in the constituencies. The BJP campaign in most constituencies was carried out mainly by Yeddyurappa, except in Ballari, which was left to Sriramulu’s care as a measure of the party’s confidence in him, which has cost it dearly. The party’s senior leaders hardly campaigned for its candidate.

The results have revealed in unmistakable terms the success of the Congress-JD(S) combine. The coalition partners have won four out of five by-elections, and with big margins. In Mandya, Shivarame Gowda won with a margin of over three lakh votes. The victory margins of Ugrappa and Anand Nyamagouda, too, are impressive.

The failure of the BJP to retain its seat in Ballari points decisively to the voters’ rejection of the mining barons and their hold over the district, which took away the
jobs of the youth and earned the wrath of the people over the BJP leadership‘s failure to address the basic problems of the
people, like drinking water, health, sanitation, etc. The Ballari voters seem to have decided to embrace the Congress, which controlled the district until 15 years ago. Nyamagouda’s victory in Jamakhandhi is a reaffirmation of the Congress’ continued hold over the constituency.

Political utility of coalition

The byelection results point to the continued political utility of the coalition government to the Congress and JD(S). Yet another significance is that Siddaramaiah has re-emerged as the top leader of the Congress in Karnataka.

The senior leaders of both Congress and JD(S) have reaffirmed their resolve to fight the 2019 Lok Sabha elections unitedly. There could be some disagreements over seat-sharing among state leaders, but it is likely that Deve Gowda and Rahul Gandhi would ultimately decide the issue, keeping in mind their avowed objective of defeating the BJP in as many Lok Sabha constituencies as possible.

The by-election results have undoubtedly posed a setback to the state BJP leadership. Though immediately after the results the party leaders reaffirmed that they would fight the 2019 elections under Yeddyurappa’s leadership, it is no secret that the party is ridden with factional feuds and the clamour for leadership change may surface after sometime. However, Yeddyurappa may be continued as the party president till the Lok Sabha elections are over. 

The central leadership of the BJP, which is likely to face challenges in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh assembly elections, is surely not in an enviable position following its dismal performance in the Karnataka bypolls. However, Karnataka voters are known to spring surprises. Being politically mature, they have in the past voted for different parties in the assembly and Lok Sabha elections. They cannot be taken for granted by any party.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow, ICSSR)

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