While the nation focuses on the national verdict, Karnataka is keenly watching voter turnout in the Assembly by elections being held today in Kundagol and Chincholi. On 23rd May, we in Karnataka will not only be watching the national trends and the political colour of our 28 MPs, who is elected in the two Assembly by elections will also be anxiously monitored.
A year ago we elected our State legislature and there was a clear split verdict. The BJP tried its luck but could not muster the required numbers. This paved the way for a Congress –JD(S) coalition to come to power. Since then they have been desperately trying to remain in power and their opponents have been equally (if not more) eager to dislodge them. The wafer thin majority, that the ruling coalition enjoys makes every legislator important. Legislators are well aware of this and would like to make the best of the opportunity.
It is in this context that the contest in the two bypolls becomes so important. One bypoll was caused by the unfortunate demise of the MLA and the other caused by the legislator resigning in order to switch parties. The circumstances that caused the by-elections would be as crucial as the political events in the state since last year’s Assembly polls in deciding and defining the verdict.
It is important to record that both seats were held by the Congress. In Chincholi, a reserved constituency, the sitting MLA resigned in order to cross over to the BJP and contest the Lok Sabha polls from Gulbarga. His son was given the ticket by the BJP. The Congress candidate on the other hand, has switched back to the party after having a short spell in the BJP! Both sides are making every effort to win the seat. For the BJP candidate and his father it is a prestige issue. Both the father and son will know their results on the 23rd.
There is talk of the caste factor favouring the BJP. One has found that in reserved constituencies, the winner is often the one who has the backing of the dominant caste in the constituency. Given the strong presence of the Lingayats, the BJP hopes that it’s State President B. S. Yeddyurappa, ( a Lingayat) can turn the tide in their favour. The JD(S) has a limited presence in this constituency and this factor too could impact on the alliance candidate.
In Kundagol, the sitting MLA (who was also a minister), passed away causing the by-election. He had won the seat last year by a wafer-thin majority. The BJP candidate who narrowly lost the elections is once again in the fray. The Congress has given the ticket to the wife of the deceased MLA hoping to garner the sympathy vote. The JD(S) too has a presence in this constituency and the alliance hopes that this factor could swing the seat in their favour.
Observers have been making the point that once the Lok Sabha elections trickle in, Karnataka could be the one state where the state government’s stability will be closely watched. It will not only be linked to the national verdict but also how well the Congress- JDS alliance does in the state, and additionally, whether the Congress can retain the two seats. It is also important to note that two of the Congress candidates in the Lok Sabha elections from the State are MLAs. If either or both of them win, it further depletes (at least temporarily) the alliance numbers in the Assembly. Further, given the threat of the dissidents, the Congress- JDS alliance could face challenges. The hiccups between the alliance on the leadership question does not make their task of ensuring stability any easier.
If the NDA does well nationally, and the vote transfer has not been smooth between the alliance partners in Karnataka, it could be a huge challenge for the alliance. Further, if they were to lose even one of the by elections, it would further queer the pitch. If the NDA finds it difficult to return to power at the centre, the coalition government in the state is likely to be more stable as the BJP would have its own share of challenges and may not want to ferment a crisis in Karnataka. An important factor would also be if the ‘star’ candidates of the alliance are able to win the election. If any of them lose, the blame game would begin and the knives would be out, making the stability of the coalition a huge challenge.
All eyes are now on the by-election voting today, the exit polls later in the day and of course the grand finale to this long drawn electoral contest on the 23rd. A captivating week ahead....