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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 49, New Delhi, November 21, 2020

Impact of 2020 by-election results in Karnataka on the Political Parties | P. S. Jayaramu

Saturday 21 November 2020

by P. S. Jayaramu

Results of the by-elections in Karnataka are out. The BJP has emerged victorious in both the R R Nagar constituency in Bangalore and Sira in Tumkur district. The results call for an analysis of the impact of the by-polls on the Political Parties in the State.

Let us take up first the case of the Bhartiya Janata Party. The BJP which came to power by resorting to operation lotus in a big way In 2019 after the collapse of the Congress-JD(S) Coalition Government has not looked back since then. The by-elections were necessitated by the death of the JD(S) MLA Satyanarayana in Sira and in R R Nagar following the resignation of Muniratna as Congress MLA in 2019. One explanation for the Party’s victory is that generally the ruling party gets favoured by the voters as they want to strengthen the party in power as well as expect greater benefits by the Government of the day. But this explanation by itself does not tell the full story for BJP’s victory this time around.

In R R Nagar constituency, Muniratna as Congress MLA had done good work thanks to his resources as well as the liberal constituency grant he got by the then government due to his personal equations with Siddaramaiah, though the two fell apart following Miniratna’s resignation from the Congress Party. He mounted a strong campaign this around supported by the BJP stalwart and revenue minister R. Ashok who had taken up his case strongly wit the BJP High Command during the allotment of tickets, much against the opposition from some Party men. Added to it, the Chief minister invested considerable time and energy in campaigning for Muniratna, even going to the extent of assuring ministerial position to him if elected. The Party workers too campaigned vigorously in addition to Muniratna wooing some of the Congress workers too to his side during the campaign in view of his personal equations with them. Added to it, he undertook extensive distribution of food packets to the workers affected by the Covid 19 pandemic in his constituency which endeared him to that class of voters. All this resulted in his astounding victory by a margin of over 58000 votes, much higher than his previous margins and much against the expectations of BSY who had talked of a winning margin of about 35000 votes.

R R Nagar being a strong vokkaliga dominated constituency , the Congress and JD(S) too put up candidates from the same community backed up by strong campaigning by Congress President D K Shiva Kumar and his brother Suresh, the serving M P from the constituency. Siddaramaiah too campaigned vigorously for the Party candidate with the intention of defeating his one time loyalist Muniratna. All that was of no avail as the election results have shown. The J D(S) on its part put up a nominal fight, even adopting a ‘soft’ approach towards Muniratna, as alleged by the Congress Party and sections of the media.

In contrast, BJP’s victory in Sira, is a feather in Yediyurappa’s cap, as this was a constituency where the Party candidates lost deposits in the previous elections, the constituency being a strong hold of the Congress in 2015 and the JD(S) in 2018. Here again, all the three candidates belonged to the powerful vokkaliga group, a community which has a larger share of the population. The BJP’s victory is attributed to skilful campaigning by BSY’s son Raghavendra and the Chief Minister himself to woo the electorate. BJP’s Rajesh Gowda, won by a margin of over 8000 votes thanks to the stiff competition provided by Congress’s veteran candidate T B Jayachandra. The JD(S) which hoped to retain the seat by putting up Ammajamma, wife of the late sitting MLA Satyanarayana, could not achieve ita objective despite Deve Gowda’s sustained campaign in the constituency.

Victory in both the constituencies, has not only further strengthened the BJP at the state level, but, most importantly, made the Chief minister’s position unassailable. Under his leadership, the Party won the highest number of Seats in the 2018 Assembly elections, the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections and the 18 by elections which took place following large scale exodus from the Congress Party. The by-election victories may put to rest for sometime, calls for change of Cheif Ministership as the BJP High Command too is pleased with the way BSY has led the Party successfully at the hustings. The BJP has skilfully managed to win over a sizeable section of the votes of the SC, STs and OBCs in recent years to expand to its social base.

Be that as it may, Yediyurappa Government should focus its attention to find solutions to the problems faced by the flood affected people of northern Karnataka, farmers distress, the problem of unemployment in rural and urban areas, problems of the medium and small scale industries, many of which are on the verge of closure as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic and more importantly the need to augment the dwindling financial resources of the State.

Getting back to the impact of the by poll results on the Parties, it needs emphasis that the Congress Party has to have serious introspection about its electoral failure . It is an open secret that that all is not well with the Party at the state level. Though outwardly the Party President D K Shiva Kumar and the Leader of the Opposition Siddaramaiah profess cooperation, they are more interested in who will become the Cheif Minister in 2023 instead of concentrating their energies on rebuilding the Party from the taluka and district levels by enrolling more members to the Party and encouraging the morale of the Party workers. The Party is pleagued by factionalism, caste rivalries and goals of personal self aggrandisements which does not bode well for its future. The Party should work hard to rebuild its social base by regaining the support of the SC, ST and OBCs, including the muslim minority who are dissatisfied with the Party’s attitude towards them. It remains to be seen if the Congress Party General Secretary Mr. Surjewala who is in charge of Karnataka will do some tough talking in the so called introspection meeting and motivate the state leaders to bring about the much needed reforms to stay in the reckoning for the three more elections coming up in the upcoming days, including the one to the Rajya Sabha.

As regards the Janata Dal (S) it is time it’s national President Deve Gowda realises the imperative of taking the Party out of the family fold and build up leadership outside the dynasty. Equally importantly, the Party would do well to enlarge its social base by shedding the vokkaliga tag which has hitherto characterised it overwhelmingly. The losses the Party suffered last year in K R Pet and now in Sira Assembly by-polls should come as a warning signal to not only strengthen its hold in the southern region but also to make itself a pan Karnataka Party. The kind of issues the Party takes up will determine its support base among the electoratate, specially the youth. The Party should not be content with playing the role of a king maker if it has to play a larger role in State politics. In an increasingly bipolar competition for power between the Congress Party and the BJP, the third space can be effectively used by the JD(S) If only it comes out of the shadow of dynastic politics centering round the Deve Gowda family.

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(The writer is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi.)

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