The Congress victory in the by-elections to two constituencies has come as a blow for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s state unit chief BS Yeddyurappa, who had termed the election as “semi-final” before next year’s assembly polls.
The loss could mean trouble for Yeddyurappa, who was asked to head the state unit of the BJP in 2016 by party president Amit Shah, as dissenting voices within the BJP were getting bolder against him with many leaders unhappy with his style of functioning.
In fact, 24 BJP leaders had written Yeddyurappa a letter asking him to mend his ways as they felt his style of functioning was hurting the party. Senior party leader KS Eshwarappa, too, had publicly aired his opposition to Yeddyurappa’s style of functioning.
While the stakes were already high in the bypolls, as the state assembly polls are only a year away, Yeddyurappa had made it a personal battle between him and chief minister Siddaramaiah. Yeddyurappa had called this the “semi-final” and had sought votes for the candidates by projecting it as a vote for himself as the chief ministerial candidate in the next elections.
Siddaramaiah, too, acknowledged this fact. “Yeddyurappa and Shobha Karandlaje had been camping in the two constituencies for over a month and not attended Parliament as a result,” he said about the two members of Parliament, while commenting on the results on Thursday.
Yeddyurappa had also seen the byelection as forming a part of his “Mission 150”, a project to win 150 seats in the 224-seat assembly in the upcoming elections.
As a part of this strategy the BJP, and Yeddyurappa personally, had reached out to dissidents within the Congress, who were unhappy with Siddaramaiah, to switch sides.
Yeddyurappa was seen to have pulled off a master stroke when he managed to convince senior Congress state leader, Siddaramaiah confidant and prominent Dalit leader V Srinivasa Prasad to join BJP. Former chief minister SM Krishna joining the BJP was seen as a blow to the Congress.
However, in both Nanjangud and Gundlupet constituencies, the BJP’s strategy seemed to have failed. In Gundlupet, BJP candidate CS Niranjankumar was up against Geetha Mahadev Prasad, whose husband HS Mahadev Prasad had died recently, necessitating the bypoll. However, Niranjankumar lost by a bigger margin than in the 2013 elections.
In Nanjangud, a reserved constituency for Scheduled Caste candidates, the contest was between old foes, both of whom had defected to different parties. Srinivasa Prasad was again battling against Kalale Keshavamurthy, who had recently switched to the Congress from the Janata Dal (secular).
Prasad’s loss, by a margin of around 21,000 votes, is all the more surprising because he won the seat in the 2013 polls by a margin of around 9,000 votes. As a result of the loss, Prasad has announced his decision to retire from electoral politics.
Speaking about the BJP’s strategy of including dissenters from the Congress, Narendar Pani, faculty at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, said: “Before any election year there are always those who want to shift parties. However, the BJP’s strategy was flawed because there seems to be a generational shift in Karnataka’s politics and it chose to go with older leaders like Srinivasa Prasad and Krishna.”
Meanwhile, Sandeep Shastri, Pro vice chancellor of Jain University and a political analyst, highlighted the limits of banking on leaders who switch parties. “In Nanjangud, people voted against the idea of a leader changing parties for no reason other than that he was shunted out during a Cabinet reshuffle.”
Shastri was also critical of the BJP’s strategy in the bypolls to project Siddaramaiah-led governments as riddled with corruption. “Using corruption as a plank will only backfire for the BJP, as its own tenure in government between 2008 and 2013 was seen as being corrupt,” Shastri said.
Other factors, too, seem to be working against Yeddyurappa, who will turn 75 in February, just before the election. “The BJP will not jeopardise its rule of not including leaders aged above 75 in government,” he said. “They did not make an exception for leaders like Murli Manohar Joshi, so they are very unlikely to make an exception for Yeddyurappa,” Shastri said.
Shastri said the results had strengthened the central leaders of the BJP. “They will now take charge of the party’s election campaign in the state, rather than leave it to the state leadership,” Shastri said.