The Karnataka bypoll results mean that BJP will have to win a large number of seats from northern and western India in 2019 if it wants to remain in power at the Centre.
The Bharatiya Janata Party was handed over a massive defeat by the people of Karnataka. Of the three Lok Sabha and two assembly seats, the ruling party at the Centre could manage only a single seat. The Congress-JD(S) alliance, which was dubbed by BJP as an unnatural alliance, won two Lok Sabha and two Assembly seats. The biggest setback for BJP was the loss of Ballari where senior BJP leader Sriramulu’s sister J Shantha contested against V S Ugrappa of the Congress. Ballari is considered a bastion of the BJP which it had retained since 2004. The victory margin of 2,43,161 votes is seen as a loss of face for the BJP leadership.
The alliance bagged both the assembly seats – Ramanagara and Jamkhandi. Ramanagara seat went to JD (S) where Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy’s wife Anitha defeated BJP’s L Chandrashekar by 1,09,137 votes.
Senior Congress leader and former chief minister Siddaramaiah termed the victory as a Diwali gift and said that this is the forewarning of what is to come in the upcoming elections.
Karnataka was meant to be the BJP’s gateway to the South, a territory where it has struggled to make inroads. On the contrary, the signs for Narendra Modi are ominous. If the current results are anything to go by, the BJP should have little hopes of doing wonders in south Indian states in 2019. Karnataka is seen as the most receptive state in the South to the happenings in the northern part of the country. However, the response to the BJP in these elections appears discouraging. For Modi, the challenge will now lie in repeating its success in the states in the North and West that were key to the BJP’s stellar performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Moreover, the results also send out a signal that the issues that the BJP has whipped up in the recent past may not be having the desired impact for them. Be it the push in Kerala or the protests in Sabarimala, or the Lingayat issue in Karnataka, none of them has had the desired impact for the BJP’s electoral fortunes. The BJP has found it tough to go beyond a certain point in a state where caste metrics play a more crucial role than religion, an area which the Congress and JD(S) appeared to have all covered following their alliance.
The result should come as a wake-up call for the BJP which was looking for victory ahead of the general election in 2019. In the elections held in the state earlier this year, no single party could secure a majority in 224-member house in May. The BJP emerged the largest party with 104 seats but was still short of the majority. The Congress, which was the second largest party with had 78 seats, supported the JD(S) to form the government.
The bypoll results, though encouraging for the Congress, have a message for Rahul Gandhi as well. The Congress is no longer the force it used to be and would do well to know that it has to depend on smaller partners in states to stay significant as a national party. It has to be more open to alliances and the burden of maintaining these alliances must lie on Rahul. The Congress already faces criticism for bringing down alliance partners and, given its current situation, a favourable alliance in BJP strongholds of UP, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya pradesh can help the party tremendously. Coalitions are working well for the party even in states where the BJP has a strong presence.
Speaking on the results, Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy on Tuesday said that by-election victory was the first step. “There are 28 Lok Sabha seats. We’ll work with Congress to win all of them, that is our goal. This is not an empty boast just because we have won today. This is the confidence of people in us,” he said.
Ahead of the elections, it was expected that the BJP could make inroads into the JD(S) stronghold of Mandya and the Congress stronghold of Jamkhandi. But, nothing of that sort happened. Both the national parties tried to breach each other’s bastions ahead of crucial Lok Sabha polls in 2019. The win could further strengthen the alliance ahead of the general elections.