BENGALURU, Karnataka: As the campaign for the high-stakes 5 December assembly bypolls in Karnataka ended on Tuesday, the state’s major political parties are eagerly waiting to see what the future of the B.S. Yediyurappa government will be.
The results of the bypolls, which were necessitated because 17 Congress-JD(S) MLAs resigned in July, allegedly due to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) Operation Lotus, will be announced on December 9.
While the BJP and Congress are contesting all the 15 seats, the JD(S) is fighting in 12 and also supporting independent candidate Sharath Bachegowda in Hosakote in Bengaluru.
The Yediyurappa government is currently hanging by a thread—it has 105 MLAs and, after the bypolls, will need seven more to reach the halfway number of 112 in the 222-member House. The BJP has launched ‘Mission 7 Plus’ as it is not sure of sweeping all 15 seats (bypolls are not being held to two constituencies).
Not a cakewalk for BJP
Operation Lotus 2.0, which brought down the 14-month old JD(S)-Congress government, led by H.D. Kumaraswamy, in July this year and made 76-year-old Lingayat strongman Yediyurappa the chief minister for the second time in 11 years, has not been a smooth road for the BJP. Yediyurappa has the arduous task of getting 14 disqualified MLAs re-elected (In one seat, Bengaluru’s Shivajinagar, BJP has fielded a former corporator) and later, give them plum ministerial posts.
The Congress and JD(S) are watching carefully, and have campaigned on the issue of “Karnataka’s swabhimana” (Karnataka’s self-respect or pride), asking voters to shun the turncoats (the tagline has been borrowed from independent MP Sumalatha Ambareesh “Mandya’s Swabhimana” campaign from the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, which had become a hit).
Issues of development have taken a back seat as all parties are clearly battling for political survival. While by-polls are generally expected to be a cakewalk for the ruling party, the BJP finds itself in a bind as some voters, with scenes from Maharashtra fresh in their minds, may be sceptical.
The Congress and JD(S) are watching carefully, and have campaigned on the issue of “Karnataka’s swabhimana” (Karnataka’s self-respect or pride), asking voters to shun the turncoats
10 MLAs across parties have also been allegedly involved in the infamous ‘honeytrap’ case, which has also been simmering in the background. Though videos have gone viral, opposition parties have not made it an issue, but this could change post the polls.
The BJP is facing an uphill task in Hoskote, where disqualified MLA M.T.B. Nagaraj, the richest among the candidates with assets worth Rs 1,200 crore, is contesting against Sharat Bachegowda (son of BJP MP B N Bachegowda’s son) and Congress nominee Padmavathi Byrathi Suresh. In Ballari, another disqualified MLA Anand B Singh is pitted against Kaviraj Urs, a rebel from the BJP, and in Hunsur, both the Congress and JD(S) candidates are giving a tough fight to disqualified MLA H. Vishwanath.
Yediyurappa himself received a notice from the Election Commission for invoking the caste card in his poll speeches. Speaking in Kagwad and Gokak constituencies in Belagavi district, Yediyurappa appealed to Veerashaiva-Lingayat voters to vote only for his party and said that those who don’t would be committing a crime, resulting in two FIRs being filed against him.
In 2008, when the BJP launched its maiden Operation Lotus, it netted seven MLAs—three from the Congress and four from JD(S). In the bypolls held in December 2008 to five assembly constituencies (one was caused due to death of a MLA) the BJP won five seats.
BJP MLC Lehar S Singh said: “Irrespective of what the outcome is, Yediyurappa’s government will continue.”
Will Congress and JD(S) get back together?
The Congress and JD(S) are seeing the bypolls as a chance to come back to power. While JD(S) supremo H. D. Deve Gowda and his family have indicated it could go either way—one one hand, Gowda has said he wants the BJP to continue for three more years, which will give him breathing time to build his party; on the other, he has hinted that Congress president Sonia Gandhi will have the final say on any possible reunion of the Congress and JD(S). His son, former CM Kumaraswamy has said his party is willing to prop up the BJP if it fails to perform in the bypolls and needs the numbers to continue.
In Congress circles, expectations of a comeback are high, but views are divided on how to achieve it. Former CM Siddaramaiah categorically said that after December 9, the BJP would have to pack its bags and the Congress would come back to power. He has already promised 10 kg of rice to BPL families once his party takes charge at the helm.
Another section led by former minister D.K. Shivakumar—who is out on bail in an alleged money laundering case and drew huge crowds wherever he campaigned—is warming up to the JD(S). AICC general secretary Mallikarjun Kharge, who oversaw the sewing together of the NCP-Shiv Sena-Congress government in Maharashtra, and former deputy CM G. Parameshwara have also indicated possibilities of the two parties reuniting.
The Gowda family, which is looking at playing its oft-repeated role of a king-maker, will be content if the JD(S) manages to win three seats in south Karnataka (Hunsur and Krishnarajapet) and Mahalakshmi layout in Bengaluru. All the three have Vokkaliga voters in majority.
Taking exception to Union minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda’s comment that “shedding tears during elections was the Gowda family’s business” after Kumaraswamy broke down in Krishnarajapet saying the people of Mandya deserted his son Nikhil in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the former CM said: “I will say that our family has a patent over it (shedding tears). Ours is a life of emotions and tears are an expression of pain in our hearts. I don’t know how to apply glycerine and cry when I see poor people.”
Aware that the bypoll results are a barometer for his political future, Yediyurappa has tried to put on a brave front. “On December 9, the Congress-JD(S) candidates will be seen vacating the counting centres midway as my party is going to win hands down,″ he has claimed.