The BJP is in trouble and it appears that it is time for the central leadership to micro manage the state unit.
It is time the BJP pulled up its socks.
The by-election results in Karnataka were 4:1 in favour of the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) or JD(S) combine against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Elections were held to the assembly constituencies of Ramanagara and Jamakhandi, while in the Lok Sabha segments it was conducted at Bellary, Shivamogga and Mandya.
The alliance won all the seats barring Shivamogga, which was bagged by B Y Raghavendra, the son of BJP strongman, B S Yeddyurappa, who had vacated this seat after becoming a member of legislative assembly (MLA).
While one could say that the results were a status quo in respect to all the constituencies, the big change was in Bellary. Once considered to be a BJP stronghold and with the likes of the Reddy brothers and B Sriramulu managing the campaign, the defeat for the BJP is a major setback.
The BJP in the 2018 assembly polls emerged as the single largest party with 104 seats. It was considered to be an impressive performance by the party, but it failed to the form the government as it was short by around eight seats.
What Changed For The BJP
It is clear that a lot has changed since the 2018 assembly elections. The first major setback post the elections was not being able to form the government. Then came an experiment of trying to form the government, which the BJP did, but it lasted only a day as the party was just not able to cough up the numbers.
While in the run up to the campaign the coordination of the party’s state and national unit was under question, the adventure which led to the formation of the government for a day signalled that the two units were not in sync.
This was followed by the two defeats in the by-elections at Raja Rajeshwari Nagar and Jayanagar. The RR Nagar elections were postponed due to a voter scam being unearthed. The BJP was expected to capitalise on this issue and corner the Congress, but it failed.
Jayanagar was another shock defeat for the party. A stronghold of the BJP, the elections were postponed following the death of BJP MLA, Vijaykumar. Here too the BJP failed and it was clear that the campaign was not planned properly by leaders from the city. The party was unable to capitalise on the sympathy wave either.
The Alliance Factor
The state BJP leaders have often spoken about ‘Operation Lotus”. The BJP had said that once the by-polls are done with, the coalition would fall and many are waiting to sail ship. This, yet again, was a decision of the state unit, not backed by the central leadership.
The next setback for the BJP was in the urban local body polls. The Congress and the JD(S) managed to win the polls. The Congress won 982, BJP 929 and JD(S) 375.
In the by-elections, the campaign by the BJP seemed lacklustre. Although Ramanagara is a JD(S) stronghold, the BJP failed to put up a fight. The fact that its candidate, L Chandrashekhar went back to the Congress just two days before the elections was a huge embarrassment for the party. It put under question the planning by the Vokkaliga leaders such as D Sadananda Gowda, C P Yogeshwar and R Ashok, who were in charge. Here, the big mistake committed by the party was relying on a fence-sitter rather than one of its own.
While the BJP managed to win Shivamogga easily, it did have a nervous start. Raghavendra’s rival Madhu Bangarappa of the JD(S) was leading for sometime at the start, before the BJP snatched victory.
Bellary was however the big story. The election was held after B Sriramulu vacated the seat. He fielded his sister J Shantha, who lost by over 1 lakh votes to V Ugrappa of the Congress. Once considered to be a stronghold of the BJP, the party has been gradually losing hold. It was clear that this battle was one of prestige as the Congress put its strongest man, D K Shivakumar in charge of the campaign.
The Bellary downfall for the BJP began with the start of the mining scam. The party was in tatters and Sriramulu even quit and formed his own party. Under the Bellary Lok Sabha segment there are eight assembly constituencies. Even in the 2018 assembly polls, the BJP only managed to win two seats. It won in Bellary City and Kudligi.
The Congress on the other hand won at Vijayanagara, Bellary, Kampli and Sandur, while the JD(S) bagged the Hadagalli and Hagaribommanahalli seats.
Factionalism Comes To The Fore
The Karnataka BJP has always been troubled by factionalism. Several of its leaders such as Suresh Kumar among others have said that it is time to introspect. The experts say that factionalism has always been there in Karnataka, but it has become open visibly.
Dr Sandeep Shastri, a psephologist, tells Swarajya that the fact that the party was unable to get a majority in 2018 itself was a reflection of the factionalism within. It was clear that the state and central units were not in sync. The factionalism in fact has become even more visible after the party failed to form the government.
The defeats at RR Nagar, Jayanagar and then the urban local body polls were all indicators that the factionalism had increased a lot. The talk about Operation Lotus was an idea of the segment of the party. Not many were enthused by this idea, which many feel was floated by Yeddyurappa.
The BJP is in trouble and it appears to me that it is time for the central leadership to micro manage the state unit. Karnataka is an important state in the context of 2019 as the party has the best chance to win most of its seats here when compared to the southern states. Time is running out for the party and with the alliance in the state tasting one success after another, it is time that the BJP pulled up its socks, Dr Shastri also says.
While the results are being seen as a major setback for the BJP, it could take some solace from the results at Mandya and Ramanagara, which have never been its strongholds.
For the first time the BJP registered such a huge number of votes in Mandya. The BJP’s Dr Siddaramaiah polled 244,377 votes as opposed to the 553,374 registered by L R Shivarame Gowda of the JD(S). The Congress did not field a candidate here, which upset several local leaders. This is an impressive performance by the BJP considering it does not have a huge voter base in Mandya.
In the 2018 assembly poll, the BJP managed just 32,064 votes in Mandya. The JD(S) had polled 69,421, while Congress managed to bag 47,813 votes.
In Ramanagara, despite the major embarrassment for the BJP, the party managed to better its 2018 assembly poll tally.
Anita Kumaraswamy polled 125,043 votes as opposed to the 15,906 polled by the BJP’s L Chandrashekhar, who switched to the Congress two days before the elections. In the 2018 assembly elections, H D Kumaraswamy of the JD(S) polled 92,626 votes, while the Congress managed 69,990. The BJP had managed just 4,871 in that election.