New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party’s near-sweep in the Karnataka by-election – the results of which were declared Monday – has paved the way for chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa to run a stable government for the rest of its tenure. The BJP needed at least seven wins in the 15 seats that went for polls to muster up majority numbers in the assembly. It ended up winning 12, while the Congress won two. One seat was won by an independent candidate even as JD(S) drew a blank.
In most of the constituencies, the saffron party won by huge margins – indicating that the electorate preferred the Yediyurappa government to continue with confidence, without any further tumult in state polity. Ever since the hung assembly in 2018, Machiavellian political machinations had become the order of the day.
Although the BJP finished as the single-largest party, it could not sustain running the government on its own as the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) hurriedly struck an alliance to keep the saffron party out of power. The formation of the alliance, it was thought, would usher in a larger opposition unity against the BJP but that was not to be. Daily struggles for one-upmanship, frequent fights between the Congress and JD(S) legislators, and greed for ministerial berths eventually allowed the BJP to exploit the volatile scenario.
Fourteen Congress MLAs and three JD(S) MLAs withdrew their support from the government, leading to their disqualification under the anti-defection law. The Supreme Court later upheld their disqualification but allowed them to contest the polls again. As a result, a majority of them joined the BJP and 13 eventually got tickets from the saffron party to contest the by-polls.
BJP’s strength in the assembly has now increased from 105 to 117 in the 222-member house. Congress has 68 while JD (S) has 34. Three seats are with independents. Although the full strength of the assembly is 224, two seats are vacant over election fraud-related cases that are pending in the court.
BJP must have gotten a burst of confidence from the fact that 11 of the 13 MLAs who defected and were fielded as its contestants won with handsome margins. Only in Hosakote and Hunsur did the disqualified MLAs lose the poll.
In Hosakote, N. Nagaraju, who was in the fray on a BJP ticket, lost to the independence candidate Sharath Kumar Bachegowda. Interestingly, Bachegowda is a BJP rebel and is likely to join the party soon. In Mysuru’s Hunsur, the JD(S) disqualified MLA A.H. Vishwanath lost to Congress’s H.P. Manjunath. It was reported that the Manjunath got full support of the JD(S) in defeating Vishwanath.
The difference between the BJP and the rest of the parties in terms of vote share is staggering. While the BJP got 50.3% votes, the Congress fell way behind with 31.5%. JD (S), which contested on its own, was nearly decimated with only 11.9% votes.
BJP’s extraordinary performance also indicates that the dominant Lingayat community supported the party wholeheartedly. The previous H.D. Kumaraswamy government was considered as one in which Vokkaligas would have the last say. Since both these communities continue to be political rivals, observers say that Lingayats were fighting to assert their supremacy in the bypolls. Yediyurappa, a Lingayat leader, was their natural choice.
What would upset the opposition the most is the saffron party’s noteworthy performance in south Karnataka, a region where BJP has the least influence. Out of the eight seats that went to polls in the region, the BJP won five, while winning all the seven seats in the Lingayat-dominated northern region.
It remains to be seen how the disqualified MLAs, who are now back in the assembly, are accommodated in the Yediyurappa’s cabinet. Around 16 ministerial berths were left vacant by Yediyurappa. He is expected to fill all of them now as he was waiting for the by-polls to be over.
Meanwhile, Congress legislative party leader Siddaramaiah held himself accountable for his party’s defeat and resigned from his position. Chief minister Yediyurappa said that now that the mandate is clear, he expects to run a “pro-people and stable” government.
Note: An earlier version of this story erroneously said 12 of 14 MLAs who defected to the BJP won their seats. It is in fact 11 of 13 MLAs who defected.