Karnataka Bypolls: Wake-Up Call for Congress as BJP Surges Ahead

What helped the BJP win the two seats and what are the lessons for the Congress these bypolls?

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Politics
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Congress’ DK Shivakumar, BJP’s BS Yeddyurappa and JD(S)’ HD Kumaraswamy.
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Even though it was of little consequence to the stability of the Karnataka government, the results of the by-elections declared on Tuesday, 10 November, were a symbol of power consolidation for Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa, while they were a wake-up call for the Congress.

In Bengaluru’s Raja Rajeshwari Nagar, Munirathna, the former disqualified MLA from Congress, got 1,25,734 votes as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate. He won by a margin of 58,113 against Congress candidate and first-timer Kusuma H.

The BJP registered its first victory in Sira, which was held by the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) until now. This constituency was a Vokkaliga vote base, a community which voted for the JD(S) and Congress in the past.

Rajesh Gowda, a debutant and son of three-time Chitradurga MP CP Moodalgiriyappa, defeated six-time legislator and former Congress Minister TB Jayachandra by a margin of nearly 13,000 votes here.

So, what helped the BJP win these seats and what are the lessons for the Congress these bypolls?

Personal Vote Banks a Bane for Congress

Compared to 2018, when Munirathna contested on a Congress ticket, his vote share and margin on victory increased in this by-election. The margin of victory increased from 25,492 votes to 58,113 votes, while his vote share increased from 57.00 percent to 60.14 percent.

At the same, the Congress party’s vote share dropped to 32.4 percent from 57 percent.

There are two main takeaways from these figures. First, Munirathna on his own managed to keep a large chunk of the votes he got as a Congress candidate in 2018. Second, even though there was opposition to his candidature within the BJP, the saffron party loyalists voted for him in the bypoll.

According to a senior Congress leader, the party needs a revamp to become a ‘cadre-based party’. “Munirathna and all the defectors (former disqualified MLAs) are examples of how leaders have turned party base into their personal vote banks. In the case of Munirathna, over these years party didn’t check if his popularity was getting bigger than party loyalty. Now, areas that once voted for the Congress are voting for Munirathna. This needs change,” the leader said.

Big Blow for DK Shivakumar

DK Shivakumar outside Mumbai hotel in July 2019 
DK Shivakumar outside Mumbai hotel in July 2019 
Photo: PTI
For Karnataka Congress leader DK Shivakumar, there was a lot riding on this election, especially in Rajarajeshwari Nagar. Apart from ensuring a victory in his first election as party chief, this was the first litmus test to his aspiration to be the political face of the Vokkaliga community, which forms the second-largest vote bank in the state.

Both Rajarajeshwari Nagar and Sira had a large Vokkaliga vote bank and the defeat proves that Shivakumar is far from becoming ‘the Vokkaliga leader’. In fact, Revenue minister R Ashoka and former chief minister HD Kumaraswamy campaigned hard in Rajarajeshwari Nagar to show that even they have sway over the Vokkaliga community.

On Tuesday, Shivakumar expressed surprise at the number of votes secured by the BJP in both constituencies.

“We are accepting the verdict given by the people and will hold discussions in the coming days to identify the reasons for our defeat. We expected a close fight of around 10,000 votes in RR Nagar”
DK Shivakumar

Morale Boost for BJP

Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa celebrates with his son BY Vijayendra. 
Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa celebrates with his son BY Vijayendra. 
(Photo: ANI) 

Opening the account in Sira, a Vokkaliga base, in a confidence booster for the BJP. This victory was a repeat of the party’s victory in KR Pet in Mandya in the last bypolls. Even KR pet was a Vokkaliga stronghold and this gives the party the confidence to penetrate into more constituencies that voted for the Congress and JD(S) in the past.

At the same time, the Yediyurappa camp in the BJP can breathe a sigh of relief since the victory is an indication that there is no visible anti-incumbency against the government.

“The chief minister campaigned in Sira just once. He asked them for a chance to bring development to the constituency that JD(S) or Congress could not do in the past. Winning this by-election shows people have trust in us,” said a senior BJP leader.

Congress, however, blamed the “money power and JD(S)” for their loss in Sira. “The margin of victory is 16,000 votes. Clearly, the JD(S) has eaten into the secular votes here. The BJP may make many large claims but people on the ground know that they won because of their money power,” the leader added.

For Yediyurappa, however, the victory comes with the headache of Cabinet expansion. Six posts are vacant in Karnataka’s Cabinet and lobbying has already begun for these post by many, including Munirathna.

More than the bypolls, if anything could spell trouble for the Karnataka CM, it would be the Cabinet expansion.
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