In the run-up to the by-polls in Karnataka most pre-poll and post-poll surveys predicted a handsome win for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But the Congress shouted from roof-tops that it could win more than 10 seats out of 15 and topple Yediyurappa’s Government. Former CM Siddaramaiah had even claimed that there are discussions as to who the CM would be after BJP loses power. However, the electorate of the state have made him and Congress bite the dust by giving a decisive 12 out of the 15 assembly constituencies to the BJP. While the Congress won in two constituencies, one independent supported by the JD(S) managed to win from one constituency.
The polls were mandated after 17 MLAs resigned in protest against the way the Congress-JD(S) coalition was run. They complained about the way Siddaramaiah tried to meddle in the government affairs and stymied development in their constituencies. The MLAs who quit were disqualified by then Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar who was accused of being partisan in favour of the coalition. The MLAs were barred from elections till 2023. The Supreme Court backed the disqualification but allowed the members to contest. The State Government collapsed and Yediyurappa was sworn in as the CM owing to the reduced strength of the Assembly.
“Karnataka by-poll results are a message fro all states that the public will punish those who go against the popular mandate”, PM Narednra Modi
Though the former allies Congress and JDS contested separately, the Congress had declared its readiness to tie up with the JDS again if at all BJP failed to win the required number of seats. The Congress’s campaign slogan ‘Defeat the Disqualified’ tried to rake up sentiments against the MLAs but that too did not work out.
As soon as the results were out, Dinesh Gundu Rao quit as Karnataka Congress chief and Siddaramaiah quit as leader of the Congress legislature party and handed his resignation to Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Enormity of the by-poll results
Twelve of the 15 seats where by-polls were held were previously held by the Congress and the remaining three by the JD(S). Margin of victory indicates the voters sentiment in the state. BJP won with a whopping vote share of 50.3% while the Congress vote share stood way behind at 31.5% and JDS was just at 11.9%. The mandate of more than 50% shows the anger of the people against the JD(S) and Congress which formed an unholy alliance post the 2018 Assembly results only to keep BJP out of power. The Congress won just 2 seats and given the vote share which is nowhere close to BJP, they can't even claim ‘moral victory’!
The Karnataka results are more than just about numbers. BJP has made inroads in constituencies which were JD(S) and Congress strongholds and a BJP win was seen as impossible. One such seat is KR Pete in Mandya district which was a JD(S) bastion. In 2018, BJP had failed to even save its deposit here but the tables have turned with the JD(S) now struggling to save deposits in its own strongholds. BJP won from all constituencies in central and north Karnataka with a handsome margin. Gokak and Chikkaballapur were other Congress strongholds which have now voted for the BJP.
The caste card of the JD(S) and Congress too did not work in their favour. DK Shivakumar, who was arrested on corruption charges and later released, tried his best to play the Vokkaliga card. Vokkaligas are a dominant community in Mandya and are seen as deciding factor in all assembly seats in the district. The sympathy card which Shivakumar tried to foment did not work for the Congress. Congress win in a Muslim dominated Shivajinagar and Hunsur are the only saving grace while the JD(S) drew a blank.
Message for Unholy alliances
The message of the Karnataka by-poll results are not restricted to the southern state alone. Maharashtra which went to polls last month had given a mandate in favour of the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance. However, the Shiv Sena which was hell-bent on having the CM’s post for itself, backtracked from its pre-poll alliance with the BJP and formed a coalition with the NCP and the Congress. Though Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray was sworn in as the CM, the resentment among its cadres and voters were all too evident.
While 400 Shiv Sainiks left the party and joined BJP in Mumbai, its long term leaders like Ramesh Solanki quit the party for joining hands with the Congress, a party which was detested and vehemently opposed by its founder Balasaheb Thackeray. There are reports suggesting that many more Shiv Sainiks would leave the party in the coming days.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi too has spoken about the by-poll results in the State and in an apparent reference to the recent cobbled-up alliance in Maharashtra has said the Karnataka by-poll results were a message for “all states” that people will punish those who went against the popular mandate.
“The people of Karnataka have ensured that the Congress or the JD(S) will not be able to betray them. It’s a message for all states that the public will punish those who go against the popular mandate, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a rally in Jharkhand. He added that “the people of Jharkhand should also learn from Karnataka”, that in case of a hung assembly, Jharkhand would see a Karnataka-like situation clearly seeking a decisive mandate from the electorate of the State.
Jharkhand goes to polls in 5 phases between November 30 and December 20. The Congress has already indicated that it is ready to partner with non-UPA parties if the results throw a hung assembly. Most pre-poll surveys have indicated a hung assembly with the BJP led NDA expected to win the most seats.
Former Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis has tweeted about the Karnataka by-poll results saying, “In the very first chance they get, this is how voters react to opportunist politics & stealing of mandate by rejected parties by coming together for the sake of power! #KarnatakaBypolls result proves that people won’t tolerate if someone tries to play with public mandate & wish!”
Way ahead for BJP
The BJP with 117 seats in the 224 member assembly is now comfortably placed to govern the State for the rest of the term. However, the party has its task cut-out in two aspects. One, to ensure that it performs well on the governance and development front which has been in a limbo for the past 1 and 1/2 years and two, ensure that its members perform as a single unit without internal bickering over posts and positions. It must also ensure that the new entrants to the party who have won on its ticket stay true to the ethos and founding principles of the party.
BJP’s victory in Congress and JD(S) bastions augur well for the future of BJP in these districts. Its victory in Mandya marks the entry of BSY's son BY Vijayendra as a leader in the party who can strategise and defeat the opponents in their own citadels. Though the future seems interesting, the BJP has to ensure that it handles any power struggles within its doors so that it does not spill out to benefit the Congress or JD(S).
BJP State President Nalinkumar Kateel while speaking to the media after the results, said that people chose BJP to ensure that the development programs initiated by the central and state BJP government continues unabated. He also said that there is no place for politics of sloganeering or appeasement and that people will vote only for the effective work which transforms people’s lives.
Likewise, the by-poll results are also a lesson for the BJP to ensure that its MLAs perform to the expected degree so that it enjoys a decisive mandate in the assembly polls. It is worthwhile to remember that the Shiv Sena-NCP-Cong alliance government in Maharashtra has put a stop to all the development works initiated during the BJP regime giving a clear message that opportunistic alliances prefer politics over development of the state.
Hence, all eyes are now on Jharkhand so that the state’s electorate does not have to witness the vagaries of political instability endured by Karnataka and Maharashtra at the cost of governance and development.