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Impact of by-poll victories

Impact of by-poll victories
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By-polls have suddenly acquired an importance all their own. The Maharajgunj by-election in Bihar was a turning point for Nitish Kumar and...

Ever since he became Prime Minister in 1996 at the head of the United Front Government, Deve Gowda had managed to divide the minorities in Karnataka and keep a section on his side. With Muslims swerving towards the Congress in the May Assembly elections, Deve Gowda may have caIculated that it might be better for him to go with the BJP—a move that backfired

By-polls have suddenly acquired an importance all their own. The Maharajgunj by-election in Bihar was a turning point for Nitish Kumar and precipitated his exit from the NDA. The Bihar CM saw how the BJP, even as the alliance was still intact, did not work for the JD(U) candidate, and how the upper castes deserted his party. Consequently, the rival RJD candidate won with a huge majority.

The by-poll outcome in Karnataka last week could also turn out to be a watershed moment for some of the Opposition parties which had tried to forge an anti-Congress axis in the State to test the waters for the Lok Sabha elections, as also for the Congress. Though local compulsions drove the tacit understanding between the JD(S), BJP and the BS Yeddyurappa-led Karnataka Janata Party in Mandya and Bangalore Rural, these elections were closely watched to see if an anti- Congress alignment could yield a political dividend for the non-Congress parties, not just in Karnataka but also in other States.

Mandya and Bangalore Rural were being held after Narendra Modi’s call in Hyderabad to create “a Congress- free India”. Modi had on Aug 11 in Hyderabad specially reached out to the Telugu Desam Party, reminding Chandrababu Naidu of the anti-Congress legacy left him by TDP founder NT Rama Rao. And he had also reached out to AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa.

The Congress not only wrested the two seats from the Janata Dal(S), but it notched up impressive victories. Former Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy had won from Bangalore Rural by a whopping 1.3 lakh votes in 2009, but his wife Anita lost the seat this time by 1 lakh votes. The results have come as a huge setback for both Deve Gowda and his son Kumaraswamy. They underscore a political reality; that the JD(S) has not only lost the votes of the minorities which did not take kindly to the father-son duo’s decision to stand alongside the BJP, but they also lost the support of a section of the Vokkaligas.

Ever since he became Prime Minister in 1996 at the head of the United Front Government, Deve Gowda had managed to divide the minorities in Karnataka and keep a section on his side. With Muslims swerving towards the Congress in the May Assembly elections, Deve Gowda may have caIculated that it might be better for him to go with the BJP—a move that backfired.

Kumaraswamy had all along felt that the JD(S) would have to go in for alliances so as to survive, though the father had maintained an ambivalence about his position, saying that the BJP, being a national party interested in damaging the Congress, had on its own decided not to field candidates against the JD(S).

The support of the Muslims, along with the backing of his own caste, the intermediate farming community of Vokkaligas, and a section of the OBCs, which till one point included the Kurubas, the community to which the Chief Minister Siddharamaiah belongs, used to be a winning combination for the JD(S) in many seats. It had enabled Deve Gowda to notch up 58 Assembly seats in 2004, maintain his relevance, and emerge as the third pole of the polity in State politics.

The Kurbas were lost to Deve Gowda when his protégé, the present CM Siddhramaiah quit the JD(S). He was number two in the party but parted company with it when it became evident to him that Deve Gowda was only interested in promoting his son.

Given the latest by-poll outcome, Deve Gowda will have to take a call, a tough one at that, on his strategy for the Lok Sabha elections. And he may now put his weight behind creating a pre-poll Third Front platform, in the hope of becoming more acceptable to the minorities. But, having played footsie with the BJP, he is not likely to find this easy.

Implicit in the Mandya-Bangalore Rural outcome is a message for other regional parties, like the TDP which, like the JD(S), has found itself on the backfoot. If the recent buzz in Hyderabad is to be believed, the possibility of Chandrababu Naidu aligning with the BJP is not ruled out.

Also worrying for the JD(S) is the emergence of other Vokkaliga leaders—like 30-year-old actor Ramya as a new icon of the youth in the community. If the Congress gets its act together, it could use her services strategically in the Vokkaliga belt and mop up several seats in the coming Lok Sabha polls.

There is also the women’s angle here. Through the campaign, some JD(S) leaders had publicly questioned Ramya’s parentage and caste--and this obviously did not go down well with women voters.

Women all over the country are becoming increasingly assertive, and vocal about their rights. Their outpouring on the streets against the rape of Nirbhaya in Delhi and the rape of a photojournalist in Mumbai is only illustrative of a new mood among them, certainly among those who are educated, and this sentiment may now increasingly influence political choices, something that political parties will have to take note of.

The Karnataka by polls could also hasten the coming together of the BJP and BS Yeddyurappa, who has been willing to merge his party in the BJP, provided he is given an honourable re-entry. He has been demanding that he be made president of the party in Karnataka or the Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly.

Yeddyurappa had mopped up 10% of the total votes, though he won only six seats, but he damaged his parent party to such an extent that not only was it reduced to 40 seats, but the BJP candidates lost their deposits in 112 constituencies. Though on the backfoot today, Yeddyurappa, who is being backed by Narendra Modi, still believes that the “Yeddy” factor will influence the Lok Sabha polls in Karnataka, and that the Congress is in power in the State today only because of him.

The Congress’ impressive victory has come as good news for an otherwise defensive party. Of course, Karnataka has over the years bucked the national trend; nevertheless, the victory should give a boost to the party morale. It will undoubtedly strengthen Chief Minister Siddharamaiah's hands.

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