BJP’s Insurmountable Challenge Now That South Has Slipped Away  

Since the Karnataka bypolls threw up extraordinary results, they are bound to impact the 2019 LS elections.

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Generally, we tend to be dismissive about by-elections. They are considered as one-offs with no impact on the big picture. But what happened in the by-elections in Karnataka was unusual. Not only did the coalition partners, the Congress and the JD (S) in this case, worked in tandem and ensured perfect transfer of votes, the anti-BJP group notched up extremely high percentage of votes.

The Seamless Partnership of Congress & JD(S)

Congress voters supported the candidates of the JD(S) and vice-versa. Of the five seats – three Lok Sabha and two Assembly – that went to the polls, the Congress-JD(S) alliance bagged four. And the winning combination got votes in excess of 60 percent at all the places. Since these are extraordinary results, they are bound to impact the 2019 LS elections.


Big Blow To BJP’s South India Dream

Karnataka has been very crucial for the BJP's forays south of the Vindhyas. The saffron party had done well in the last two Lok Sabha elections in the state.  They had won 17 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in the state in 2014.  However, if your opponent is getting a vote share in excess of 60 percent and more (which is what we saw in the bypolls), you don't stand a chance. If the by-election trend persists in 2019, the BJP may face heavy reverses in the state. This means the BJP runs the risk of getting reduced to just a few seats out of the total of 130 in the whole of South India.

The question is where will the BJP make up for the potential losses down south. To understand that, we will have to revisit the results of 2014. The BJP then had won all 67 seats on offer in five states. This was achieved in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Delhi. In another four states, the BJP had a win percentage of 91 – in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, the saffron party had won 122 out of the 134 seats on offer.

Can 100 percent or 91 percent record be improved upon? Absolutely not. What about other places then? The BJP is unlikely to better its 2014 performance in Maharashtra, Bihar, Haryana, Punjab and West Bengal. The only realistic chance of some improvement is in the Northeast and Odisha, which together send 40 representatives to the Lok Sabha.

All in all, it is unlikely that the BJP is going to improve its performance in 485 LS seats discussed above. What the Karnataka blow suggests is that compensating for the loss is unlikely from other states.


Congress-BJP Contest Not One-Sided Anymore?

It all started from Punjab. And in the recently held Assembly elections in Karnataka and Gujarat, we saw the Congress recovering some lost ground. And all surveys indicate a keen contest between the traditional rivals in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Let us also recall that of the 10 by-election losses the BJP has suffered since 2014, the Congress has won five, indicating an even contest. In the 2014 elections, of the 189 seats which saw straight fight between the Congress and the BJP, the latter had won 166. It was totally a one-sided affair. If the gap reduces, the BJP will have a problem.

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