The sweeping victory in the Karnataka by-elections has consolidated the BJP government in the South Indian state.
Karnataka is the first southern state where the BJP came to power. The Congress decimation in the bypoll is complete: it could win only two seats of the 15 seats. The Janata Dal (S), the Congress' former partner, drew a blank. What is significant is that the victory margins of the winning candidates of the BJP have doubled compared to their win in the assembly poll in 2018 when they contested on a Congress ticket. In a way, this convincing victory has legitimized the "Operation Lotus" initiated by the BJP in the state because all these winning candidates are Congress defectors.
They fought a legal battle in the Supreme Court. There defection around July was challenged by the Congress and Janata Dal(S). The apex court had unseated them and asked them to seek a fresh mandate. The BJP put up all the defectors on its symbol and now has got them all elected. Thus, the public has endorsed the defection from the Congress to the BJP.
The defections earlier this year unseated the Congress-Janata Dal(S) government in Karnataka. In the 2018 elections to the state assembly, the BJP had emerged as the single-largest party with 105 seats in the 224-state assembly. The Congress, under its strongman Siddaramaiah, was defeated convincingly with 80 seats and the Janata Dal(S) became a poor third with just 37 seats.
The mandate was clearly in favour of the BJP but the party was short of a clear majority by just nine seats. The Congress hijacked the mandate on the plea of keeping the BJP out and offered Chief Ministership to Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal(S). The rickety coalition barely completed a year before collapsing due to internal wrangling and defections. From day one, the coalition was plagued by corruptions charges and dissidence from within. The Congress MLAs were unhappy with the power-sharing arrangement, especially offering the Chief Minister's post to the Janata Dal(S) which had contested against the Congress in the assembly poll and was responsible for the defeat of many Congress veterans. What came as a big blow was the rout of the Congress and the Janata Dal(S) in the 2019 Lok Sabha poll. But for two seats, the Congress lost all the rest of the 28 seats to the BJP. This completely devastated the opportunistic coalition. The Chief Minister, who publicly wept and alleged Congress harassment, became a laughing stock, and the Congress-Janata Dal(S) government fell, giving way to the installation of a BJP government in Karnataka under BS Yediyurappa.
The ascent of the BJP government in the state was facilitated by the defection of 15 MLAs from the opposition. It was these MLAs who sought reelection after resigning from the assembly, and contesting on the BJP symbol.
Of considerable importance is the consolidation of power by Yediyurappa. Many had speculated that he was facing dissention from within, and that his leadership was under threat. A defeat in the bypolls would have weakened his position in the BJP and would have also derailed the BJP government.
The BJP needed to win six seats for a clear majority. It has now won 12 seats, and the strength of the party now in the state assembly is 117. This BJP victory is a warning signal for the Maharashtra government too. Here the Shiv Sena has hijacked the mandate of the people in a naked display of opportunism. Its lust for power broke its alliance with BJP and formed the government with the Congress and Sharad Pawar's NCP.
In Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena fought the assembly poll as part of the BJP and won 56 seats against the BJP's 105. The Shiv Sena in its desire to have its own Chief Minister ditched the BJP. The similarity in the bargain a very akin to that of Karnataka. The victory of the BJP in Karnataka is bound to have its impact on Maharashtra, where, too, the state is governed by an unnatural coalition that has been trumped up in violation of the people's mandate.
The BJP, which lost power in some major states in the last one year, is naturally pleased with the bypoll outcome. This will also make Yediyuappra a big power center within the party. The inroads he has made in Congress and Janata Dal(S) strongholds in northern Karnataka have proved his popularity with his voters; also, the Hindu consolidation behind him made the big success in the bypoll possible. This also makes vulnerable the position of Congress leader Siddaramaiah.
The importance the BJP is attaching to the Karnataka win is clear from the reaction of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He hailed the Karnataka victory and thanked the voters in the state for throwing out the "illegitimate Congress-Janata Dal(S) coalition". It is clear that the BJP will not sit quiet till its Maharashtra betrayal is avenged. The Karnataka win will be a shot in the arm for its efforts in Maharashtra.
(Dr R. Balashankar is Member, BJP Central Committee on Training, and Committee on Publications and former Convener BJP National Intellectual Cell and former Editor Organiser.)
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