One may not read much into bye-elections but this here Karnataka ones are a trifle different – from the state as well as national perspective.
The ruling Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) combine won four out of the five bye-elections to three Lok Sabha and two assembly seats.
In itself, these seats will not make an inch of difference in numbers either in the Lok Sabha or the state assembly, except provide a bit more comfort to the ruling combine in Karnataka in that the BJP’s scope for destabilising the government comes down a notch.
Why the outcome of the bye-polls is very significant is that the results come as a morale booster for the Congress that is attempting at a revival across the nation and also in the state, the victory puts to rest the speculations fuelled by the BJP that the coalition was pulling in two directions and that the government could fall at any time.
This victory also negates the allegations that the Congress was incapable of working with allies, often made by the BJP.
By standing firm and together, despite initial hiccups and pin pricks from the disgruntled elements, the alliance of the Congress and JD (S) held together on the ground and denied the BJP bragging rights ahead of the crucial 2019 general elections. The outcome on the other hand, strengthened the template of the opposition by reinforcing the fact that mathematics matter for the alliance and proved, once again, that the Modi-Shah combine was beatable if only the arithmetic and chemistry was right.
In this aspect, the outcome of the bye-elections is very important.
First, lets take the victory in Bellary for the Congress, coming after 2004 in what has since then become a BJP stronghold. Here, the victory margin of over 2,40,000 votes tells the story that even in the BJP area of influence, the voters are vexed and view the government with a sense of anger that the promises it made were far from fulfilled.
The fact that the Congress and the JD(S) were fighting the polls together, and its cadres jelled on the ground, is something that should worry the BJP as the nation enters the run up to the next year’s general elections. And more so, the Karnataka by poll verdict ahead of the general elections to Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram state assemblies gives the much- needed morale booster for the Congress cadres.
What the outcome means for the alliance partners is that they only have to stick to the template they have so created for a possible good showing in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The BJP had won 17 out of 28 in the last general elections and it must retain or improve its position in Karnataka as indications from the ground are that it was difficult for the BJP to repeat its peak performance in North Indian states.
Which is why, the BJP was looking at South India to make up for its possible reverses in the North. But going by the bye-election results in Karnataka and the overall position of the party in the other south Indian states, it seems hardly likely that the BJP will be able to live up to its ambitions.
In that context, the Karnataka assembly elections present the party with a chance to make realistic assessment of its strengths and strategies.
BJP state unit chief and former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa admitted as much that the party will introspect and move on. Particularly, he was upset with losses in Bellary (parliament) and Jamkhandi (assembly) seats. “these are very painful. We will introspect and move on,” he said.
This admission apart, the BJP tried to playdown the impact of the results saying that they were not indicate or reflective of peoples’ reaction to the Modi government in any way. In fact, the BJP spokesperson Vivek Reddy tried his best to insulate the Modi government from the election results and said that the results only showed that the BJP state unit had to work much harder on the ground.
The Congress leaders immediately pounced on the opportunity and declared that the results were a referendum on the working of the central government.
“People have rejected BJP. It is also a rejection of Modi govt. By poll results will send a message to the entire country that the time for change has come,” said Karnataka Congress leader Dinesh Gundu Rao.
The BJP officially maintained that this was not so and that the party will ensure that it swept Lok Sabha elections in Karnataka and elsewhere in the country. “The BJP’s performance in Karnataka bye-elections is not at all a reflection on the working of the Modi government,” the BJP spokesperson said.
For sure, the results of Karnataka bye-elections are a morale booster for the Congress and other opposition parties ahead of the 2019 general elections. Coming on the eve of November-December general elections to Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram assemblies, the results could have a domino effect. Or so the opposition hopes.
The BJP, on the other hand, reiterates: “general elections are a different kettle of fish and we are sure that we will form the government, again.”
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