Karnataka bypoll results eye-opener for BJP, show what Opposition unity could do its overweening ambitions for 2019

The top brass of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — meaning Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah — can’t be in a particularly festive mood with the Karnataka by-election results rolling in as a somewhat early, if poisoned, Diwali gift. But 4:1 defeat the BJP suffered at the hands of the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance has to be unpacked a bit before its wider significance can be fathomed.

The statistics of the three Lok Sabha seats to which bypolls were held are illuminating. The BJP retained the Shivamogga seat, but its winning margin was seriously trimmed — down from the 3.63 lakh votes by which BS Yeddyurappa had won the constituency in 2014 to the 52,148 his son BY Raghavendra managed. The Congress' VS Ugrappa wrested the Bellary seat by nearly 3 lakh votes, overturning the 95,000 margin by which the BJP had won the seat in 2014. In Mandya, the JD(S) won by almost 3.25 lakh votes, but in 2014, it had scored a narrow victory over the Congress, with the BJP finishing a distant third. We will return to this result later.

The Assembly election results were, in fact, less significant statistically. In Ramanagaram, Anitha Kumaraswami won the seat her husband vacated by almost 1.1 lakh votes. Earlier this year, Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy had defeated his Congress rival by a margin of around 22,000 votes, while the BJP had breasted the tape a poor third. In Jamakhandi, the Congress candidate retained the seat by a margin of close to 40,000 votes, while earlier this year, it had secured a margin of a little less than 3,000 votes.

File photo of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Facebook/BJP4India

File photo of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Facebook/BJP4India

The really significant result among the Lok Sabha seats contested is the one for the Bellary constituency, which the Congress wrested from the BJP, overturning the significant margin by which it had lost in 2014. The Shivamogga result is quite important, as well, since the BJP saw its margin in a pocket borough nosedive. However, the Mandya result should encourage the BJP: it pulled in third with around 87,000 votes, while it polled almost 2.45 lakh in the by-elections.

As for the Assembly results, the significance of the Congress party’s victory in Jamakhandi lies in the exponentially increased margin, though the BJP can take some comfort, not so much from the marginal increase in votes polled in Ramanagaram, where it had finished third earlier this year, as from the fact that the votes the alliance polled were nowhere near the aggregate of the votes polled as separate parties earlier this year.

However, in the broader context of the impending Lok Sabha elections, the Ramanagaram and Mandya results offer cold comfort to a party that is forever looking to aggrandise itself because the overall results have clearly spelled out what regional alliances can achieve — the grinding down of the self-proclaimed puissance of the party now ruling in Delhi.

Before we get to that, a few observations about the Karnataka results are in order. Local factors affected the precise contours of the results in some of the constituencies. In Ramanagaram, the BJP candidate practically pulled out of the fray two days before the elections to rejoin the Congress, while in Bellary, the sitting BJP candidate is reported to have complained that he hardly got any support from his party, while the alliance carpet bombed the constituency. But whether these are extenuating factors for the BJP is a moot question. It could well appear to many that these are, in fact, straws in the wind indicating that the electoral turnaround the party so loudly trumpeted earlier this year has evaporated. The BJP is on a sticky wicket in Karnataka.

And so it could be, too, elsewhere. In Uttar Pradesh, the replication of the alliance between the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, the Congress and the Rashtriya Lok Dal, which succeeded in defeating the BJP in three important by-elections — those in Gorakhpur and Phulpur, first, and then in Kairana — earlier this year could by itself imperil its ambitious 2019 project. To recapitulate, the BJP and its allies won 73 of the 80 seats in 2014. If Opposition unity derails the saffron party in India’s biggest state, significant changes could ensue.

The outlook is not look particularly bright for the BJP in Maharashtra, the state that, at 48 seats, contributes the second largest number of seats to the Lok Sabha. In 2014, the party won 41 of these in alliance with the Shiv Sena against a divided Opposition. In 2019, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party will most likely contest as allies, unless the understanding they have already reached breaks down inexplicably. The threat posed by this alliance is compounded by the very real possibility that the Shiv Sena will not be in alliance with the BJP in 2019, an intention reiterated forcefully and often.

Take four other states where the BJP practically wiped out the Opposition: Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. It won all the 51 seats from Gujarat and Rajasthan and 37 of the 40 seats in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. The Congress failed to firm up alliances in the three states where elections will begin to be held days from now.

However, if buoyed by the Karnataka results, it does succeed in doing so next year, the BJP could face serious losses. The five states mentioned above contribute 219 seats to the Lok Sabha, of which the party and its allies won 202 in 2014. The BJP’s duopoly is now treading on thin ice.

If media reports are to be believed, Shah is trying to brush aside the threat posed by Opposition unity at the state level, while also talking up the BJP’s chances of scoring big in the North East, east and south. It is not quite clear what kind of mathematics is at play here. Shah’s claims sound suspiciously, like sheer braggadocio, but the Opposition will not complain if it breeds an air of complacence.

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Updated Date: Nov 07, 2018 18:50:22 IST

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