BENGALURU, Karnataka — The BS Yediyurappa government on Monday retained power in Karnataka with the BJP winning 12 of the total 15 seats in the bypolls. The state’s voters endorsed the 13 defectors BJP fielded. They had been disqualified in July by then Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar.
The Congress only managed to win two seats on Monday and one seat went to an independent. JD(S) drew a blank in the bypolls.
Yediyurappa, who was heading a minority government after the fall of the JD(S)-Congress government in July, can breathe easy now as the BJP’s strength in the 224-member Karnataka assembly went up from 105 to 117.
The party-wise strength in the 222-member House is: BJP 117, Congress 68, JD(S) 34 and independents 3. Two seats are vacant as election-related cases are pending in the court.
Reacting to the results, Yediyurappa said, “Without any problem, the BJP can give a pro-people and stable government now.”
While the BJP won all six seats in north Karnataka and one in the coastal belt of Uttara Kannada, its surprise gains were in South Karnataka which until now has been the stronghold of the Congress and JD(S) with Vokkaliga and Ahinda (Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes and dalits) being the voter base.
In north Karnataka, the Congress tried to capitalise on the political developments in Maharashtra by coining the slogan “Bombay note, Congress vote”. The strategy, however, bombed.
The BJP wrested the JD(S) bastion in Mandya district, where the latter had swept all seven constituencies in the 2018 Assembly polls. Disqualified JD(S) MLA KC Narayan Gowda retained the Krishnarajapete constituency against contender BL Devaraj of the JD(S). Former Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy had broken down while addressing the people of KR Pet last month and said that the people of Mandya deserted him by making his son Nikhil lose in the Lok Sabha election.
The three constituencies where the BJP lost were Hoskote and Shivajinagar (both in Bengaluru), and Hunsur in Mysuru. In Hoskote, independent candidate Sharath Bachegowda (son of BJP MP BN Bachegowda) defeated MTB Nagaraj. Sharath Bachegowda was expelled from the BJP after he filed his nomination papers as an independent.
The other setback for the BJP was in Hunsur where JD(S) disqualified MLA AH Vishwanath lost to Congress’s HP Manjunath. The Congress and JD(S) reportedly worked in tandem to ensure Vishwanath’s defeat as both parties had an axe to grind against him. Former chief minister Siddaramaiah and Vishwanath, once friends, had a fallout in recent years. With both hailing from the Kuruba community, they had an ongoing one-upmanship rivalry. Kumaraswamy’s beef with Vishwanath was that the latter had won in the 2018 assembly polls only because he was from the JD(S) and also headed the state party unit.
R Roshan Baig, a disqualified Congress legislator from Shivajinagar, is possibly the most affected by BJP’s loss in the constituency. He was not inducted in the party and now, the prospects of him getting into the BJP have reduced. The constituency proved third time lucky for Congress’s Rizwan Arshad who, after two consecutive defeats from Bengaluru Central Lok Sabha seat in 2014 and 2019, managed to win in the bypolls.
Task ahead for Yediyurappa: The Chief Minister’s political acumen will have to come into play as the cabinet expansion is expected to let loose a spate of problems. In the 34-member cabinet, Yediyurappa did not fill 16 berths after the August 20 expansion, reserving them for the disqualified MLAs after they got elected. This was supposed to be his show of gratitude to them for facilitating the fall of the JD(S)-Congress government in July and helping the BJP come to power.
While cabinet berths for the newly elected MLAs are assured, there are at least 56 senior BJP MLAs who missed the bus in the earlier expansion and are waiting to get their share of power now. Yediyurappa will have to fulfil the claims of his old comrades vis-à-vis the new members of the party.
According to a BJP leader, there will be no hurdles to Yediyurappa’s continuance as Chief Minister as the party’s central leadership will not meddle after the Maharashtra disaster. “The bypoll results have shown that stability of the government was more important for the voters than defections,” party MLC Lehar S Singh said.
Congress has to rebuild its lost vote bank: After the results on Monday, Siddaramaiah stepped down as leader of Opposition and Congress Legislature Party. He will likely be targeted by some party leaders who hold him accountable for the debacle. However, according to Congress insiders, the party would not even have managed to win the two seats had it not been for Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar, who joined the campaign at the fag end after his release from prison. “The Congress candidates got no financial support from the party as compared to their rivals in the BJP. Some senior leaders allegedly sabotaged the prospects of candidates due to rumours that Siddaramaiah will become the Chief Minister if Congress-JD(S) comes to power again,” sources said.
Siddaramaiah resigned as Leader of Congress Legislature Party and Leader of Opposition after the results.
Dinesh Gundu Rao also said that he has decided to resign from the post of Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee President.
“This defeat will not deter us and we will gear up to fight again just as the Congress at the national level is doing so. Holding just Siddaramaiah responsible for the selection of candidates is not right as the process was finalised after taking opinion from the block to the top level. There was a well-worked out poll strategy where leaders were put in charge of a constituency and asked not to stir out from there,” Congress MLC Prakash K Rathod said.
In a sarcastic tweet, Kumaraswamy said: “Voters of Karnataka have exercised their franchise for a ‘pure and stable’ government”.