If the near clean sweep by the Congress-Janata Dal (S) coalition in Karnataka’s bypolls on Saturday, where they mopped up four seats out of five, says one thing, it is this — replicating the 17 out of 28 seat haul the BJP achieved in the southern state in 2015 will not be easy when parliamentary polls come round in 2019.
Will the bypoll miscalculation translate into a debacle in the upcoming state polls in five states, three of them BJP-ruled? Will it impact the manner in which 2019 will be fought by a disparate opposition, unable to decide who the mahagathbandhan’s prime ministerial face will be? That’s for the poll alchemists to brew up as they face a carefully crafted storm over Ayodhya and Sabarimala that puts religion squarely back in the electoral calculus.
For the number crunchers in the BJP war room, it’s clear that the first state in the south to go saffron may not necessarily do so again. The reason for the BJP’s earlier ascent in Karnataka was primarily due to the fragmentation of the secular vote. That is no longer the case.
With the Dal and Congress forging an electoral alliance that brings significant vote banks together, pitting the Vokkaligas, Kurubas and Idigas against the Lingayats, the arithmetic is no longer skewed in the BJP’s favour. This was brought home to the BJP with its solitary win in Shivamogga, former CM, Mr B.S. Yeddyurappa’s stronghold where a shockingly diminished margin of 52,148 votes presages exactly how close 2019 could be.
The Lingayats’ tactical shift was even more evident with the embarrassing loss of the 14-year stronghold of Ballari. Having ensured the BJP stopped short of forming a government in 2014 by backing BSY’s breakaway party, the Lingayats did it again — cutting Ballari strongman and wannabe CM, Sriramulu and his sister and candidate, J.Shanta to size, by voting for ‘outsider’ V.S. Ugrappa. Primarily, to ensure their leader, BSY would not be sidelined, by the BJP top brass.
In fact, the BJP’s inability to ensure Lingayats’ complete loyalty to the party over loyalty to BSY, has contributed to continuing confusion on whether or not it’s time to groom a successor to BSY, whose inept handling of the bypolls was brought home when his hand-picked candidate L.Chandrashekhar quit the party, 48 hours before polling in Ramanagara. On top of its inability to decipher what makes the south tick, the more immediate imperative for a BJP, which has everything to lose, remains, retaining the Hindi heartland.
Contrast that with the Congress-JD(S) swiftly announcing that the winning formula that worked in these bypolls will be in play in 2019. In fact, the key Karnataka takeaway is that the coalition experiment has laid to rest doubts that party workers from rival parties could work together, raising the very real prospect that this could be taken forward across the nation, with the tried and tested Cong-JD(S) coalition electoral playbook now becoming the opposition’s blueprint for 2019.