Bengaluru, November 6: Testing ground with their alliance of six months, the Congress and Janata Dal Secular have scored a 4:1 win over the BJP in crucial by-elections for three Lok Sabha and two assembly seats in Karnataka. The sweep includes a big upset in Ballari, a BJP stronghold for the last decade and a half.
The Congress has called it a “teaser for what is in store for the BJP next year,” in a tweet that celebrated “the sweeping victory of the Congress-JD(S) alliance.” Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram said the “coalition has delivered.” This was the first election that the Congress and JD(S) contested as partners.
Ballari and Jamakhandi are a “painful setback”, said Karnataka BJP chief BS Yeddyurappa, adding that “this is a warning to us and we need to begin work there right away.”
Alleging that the ruling coalition used money and muscle power to win bypolls, Yeddyurappa said, “They had money, muscle and government power and they used this or else we could have got more votes. They won because they supplied a lot of liquor. But they could not do so in Shivamogga, but let us not get disheartened.”
Both sides had billed the by-election as a “semi-final” for the Lok Sabha elections in 2019. The win comes amid efforts by opposition parties to join hands to defeat the BJP, which is seeking a second term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The oath ceremony of Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy of the JD(S) on May 23 was seen as an opposition show of strength as leaders of different parties came together to share stage.
Karnataka gave no party a majority in the May assembly elections; the BJP won the most seats but the Congress crafted a strategic alliance with the JD(S), backing Kumaraswamy for chief minister even though his party had fewer seats.
In today’s by-election, the Congress-JD(S) alliance retained the Ramanagaram, Mandya, and Jamkhandi seats and snatched Ballari from the BJP, whose only consolation was keeping Shivamogga, where Karnataka BJP chief BS Yeddyurappa’s son Raghavendra defeated JD(S)’s S Madhubangarappa by over 47,000 votes.
Having emerged as the single largest party after the assembly elections after it won 104 of the 224 seats, the BJP had made a failed bid to form the government. It was during this time that BS Yeddyurappa and senior leader B Sriramulu had taken oath as MLAs in the assembly, after resigning their membership to Parliament from the Shivamogga and Ballari seats, respectively.
For a similar reason, JD(S) parliamentraian CS Puttaraju, now the minor irrigation minister, had also resigned from Mandya after being elected to the assembly. As a result of this, the three Lok Sabha seats fell vacant, and elections were called despite opposition from all three parties, which had felt that the by-elections were not warranted as the MPs’ tenure would be less than a year.
Among the assembly seats, the Ramanagara constituency, one of two from which chief minister HD Kumaraswamy contested, fell vacant after he retained neighbouring Channapatna.
Meanwhile, Siddu Nyamgoud of the Congress, who won the Jamakhandi seat in May, died in a road accident days after being elected, resulting in the vacancy.
While the BJP put up candidates in all five seats, the Congress-JD(S) alliance worked out a seat-sharing arrangement as a result of which the Congress contested in one parliamentary and assembly seat and the JD(S) the rest three.
In Ballari, reserved for candidates from Scheduled Tribes communities, BJP leader B Sriramulu attempted to burnish his credentials as a heavyweight. The party put up his sister J Shantha, a former MP against VS Ugrappa of the Congress, who is a member of the legislative council.
Mandya, at the heart of the Vokkaliga belt of southern Karnataka, was expected to be a cake walk for the coalition, but the decision of the Congress to leave the seat for the JD(S) as part of their arrangement, led to open dissidence within the party. In these southern districts, the Congress and JD(S) are bitter rivals and the BJP is a minor force. The BJP tried to use this dissidence but did not get far.
However, the BJP has been unable to make inroads elsewhere in the south. Last week, in a huge setback for the party its candidate L Chandrashekar, a Congress rebel who had joined the party in October, decided to withdraw his candidature and move back to the Congress. He alleged that BJP leaders had refused to campaign for him. He was up against Kumaraswamy’s wife Anitha. (Agencies)