Jayanagar bypoll: Win for Congress' Sowmya Reddy may spell trouble for Ananth Kumar as Modi magic loses sheen
The defeat in Jayanagar means three of the eight Assembly segments under Bengaluru South are now with the Congress.
When the late BN Vijaykumar of the BJP won the election from Jayanagar in 2013, his winning margin over his Congress rival was 12,000-odd votes. Interestingly, the JD(S) candidate in that election polled a little over 12,000 votes as well.
Five years later, the arithmetic of the Congress + JD(S) combine worked to ensure the BJP no longer gained from the split in the opposition vote. As a result, Sowmya Reddy of the Congress defeated Vijaykumar's brother BN Prahlad by 2,800-odd votes.
The election to Jayanagar in Bengaluru city was countermanded after the death of Vijaykumar during the election campaign. The BJP expected the sympathy vote to accrue to Prahlad as an affable Vijaykumar was an extremely popular representative of the constituency, having won in both 2008 and 2013. Also Sowmya, though the daughter of Ramalinga Reddy, who was home minister in the Siddararamaiah government, is a political greenhorn. She has been known more for her work as an environmentalist and animal rights activist so far.
The by-election result in Jayanagar, therefore, is important politically for more reasons than one. Jayanagar forms part of the Bengaluru South Lok Sabha constituency, that has been won by the BJP without a break since 1991. Union minister Ananth Kumar has been MP from the seat since 1996, winning six elections on the trot. His grip over the constituency can be gauged from the fact that even against a tough rival like Nandan Nilekeni of the Congress in 2014, Kumar won by a margin of over 2.25 lakh votes.
But Kumar will now have reason to be worried. The 2014 win, in particular, was made possible due to the Narendra Modi wave. The defeat in Jayanagar means three of the eight Assembly segments under Bengaluru South are now with the Congress. The victory has also shown the arithmetic is working well and the transfer of the JD(S) vote to the Congress too is taking place on the EVM. With the Modi magic no longer what it was four years ago, a strong candidate could make Kumar sweat next year.
The BJP cannot even argue that by-elections usually favour the ruling party because if it were so, it would not have lost the bypolls in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In Karnataka, it should have fancied its chances because it had gone to town labelling the Congress-JD(S) government an "unholy'' arrangement. Jayanagar and RR Nagar bypolls before that, therefore, were understandably seen as a commentary on what the politically aware people of two Bengaluru constituencies thought of the attempt to deny the BJP the keys to the Vidhana Soudha.
In the bypoll that was held in RR Nagar on 28 May, the JD(S) candidate remained in the fray despite which the Congress party's Muniratna won by over 40,000 votes. The BJP was unable to take advantage of a split in the anti-BJP vote. The two results, that take the Congress tally to 80, will now be touted by the ruling coalition as proof that the people of Karnataka endorse the decision to keep the BJP out of power and that the verdict is for the secular alliance.
That the two defeats have been handed over to the BJP in urban constituencies, that too in the state capital, is not good news for the party that prides itself on its urban electoral clout. The 58 percent voter turnout in Jayanagar too is not good news because it means the urban voter is not walking the extra mile for the BJP in a traditional party base. And though the urbane electorate is not an accurate barometer for determining caste dynamics, this will give hope that even the caste rainbow coalition that brings together the Vokkaliga voter of the JD(S) and the Ahinda voter of the Congress, will work on the ground.
After Gorakhpur and Kairana, the victory has once again reinforced the power of arithmetic. The anti-BJP parties will now have a vested interest in sticking together in order to keep the BJP out of power. For which Karnataka will remain the test case. How freely HD Kumaraswamy is allowed to run the government, will determine what people of Karnataka and even India think of endorsing a similar arrangement in New Delhi.
There could be more tests coming up, if by-elections are announced for three Lok Sabha seats - Mandya, Ballari and Shimoga. The MPs representing these seats — CS Puttaraju, B Sriramulu and BS Yeddyurappa — went on to become MLAs in the Karnataka Assembly and if the Congress-JD(S) fights the BJP one-on-one, it will set the template for 2019. Four years ago, the BJP won 17 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats from Karnataka. The Opposition stands a good chance to bring down that number if they get their chemistry right as well.
It was therefore ironical that Modi chose Wednesday to throw a challenge to Kumaraswamy to prove his fitness. The chief minister ducked the nomination, instead telling Modi that he is "more concerned about development fitness'' of his state and sought the prime minister's support to address it. After the verdict, Kumaraswamy's political fitness has certainly got a booster dose.
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