History not on his side, Yediyurappa battles for survival in Karnataka bypolls
A success rate of just over 50% in 11 bye-elections during the BJP’s tenure between 2008 and 2013, offers little in terms of comfort to Karnataka chief minister BS Yediyurappa as he battles for survival of his two-month-old government in the upcoming bypolls for 15 assembly seats.
The BJP must win at least six seats for Yediyurappa, who was sworn in as chief minister on July 26, to ensure a simple majority in the assembly as he hopes to hold on to power till the end of the term of the House, i.e. May 2023.
The current round of bye-elections, to be held on October 21, was necessitated after 17 rebels of the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition resigned and were subsequently disqualified for helping topple the coalition government led by former chief minister HD Kumaraswamy. A legal battle over two seats since 2018 means bypolls won’t be held there.
The rebels have challenged former Assembly Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar’s order, in which he had said that they were ineligible to enter the House till the completion of its term, and have been offered hope by the Election Commission stating in court that they could not be deprived of their right to contest the election.
Given the margins of the rebels’ victories in the 2018 assembly, Yediyurappa will be a relieved man if the Supreme Court allows these disqualified lawmakers.
Of the 15 seats going to the polls, eight were won by margins of over 10,000 votes. In the remaining seven, only one seat (Hirekerur) was won by a margin of less than 1,000 votes. And only four of the seats were won by margins below 5,000 votes.
However, history offers Yediyurappa little comfort. An analysis of bye-elections over the past 20 years in the state shows that of the 27 such polls, the ruling party won 16. However, this does not provide a clear picture of the current situation as it has been necessitated by disqualifications.
If bypolls necessitated by the deaths of incumbent MLAs are filtered out, then the record becomes 10 wins for incumbent governments out of 17 bypolls. A majority of these bye-elections (11), were held during the BJP’s tenure between 2008 and 2013. During this period, the BJP won only six seats, with a success rate of just over 50%.
Speaking to HT, one senior minister of the BJP said on the condition of anonymity, that the party was obliged to the disqualified rebels. “We knew what we were getting into when we assured them of giving them tickets,” he said.
If the Supreme Court rules in the rebels’ favour then they are bound to be fielded by the party. “We promised all the MLAs that they or their family members would be fielded in the polls and we will stick to that,” the minister said. “However, the final decision will not be taken at the state level, in our party all such decisions are taken by the central leadership, so one can’t say for certain,” he added.
He added that the party was fairly confident that it would do enough to win a majority. “Since there are 15 seats going to the polls, even if we are able to repeat our victory rate of 2008-13, we will win eight seats, which will mean we will enjoy a majority,” he said.
Currently, the BJP has 105 MLAs and the support of one Independent MLA. It needs to win six seats at present to reach a majority with the Independent MLA’s support, and will have a majority of its own if it wins more seats.
Congress state president Dinesh Gundu Rao admitted that historically the party in power enjoys an advantage. “A majority of bye-elections have been won by incumbent governments because of the vast resources at the disposal of any government,” he said.
However, he added that this time would be different considering the circumstances. “The BJP has failed in coming to the aid of floods affected people in the state and this is working against them,” he said. “People are also angry and disgusted by the manner in which the rebels ensured the fall of the coalition government,” he added.
Political analyst Narendar Pani, who is faculty at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, concurred with Gundu Rao’s view. “A success rate of around 50% is pretty poor and this definitely cannot be banked upon,” he said.
“Additionally, there is evidence that the rebels might have lost what little standing they might have enjoyed earlier,” Pani added. “I think Yediyurappa will need to be worried about the circumstances, because in 2008 the BJP was just two seats short of a majority, which isn’t the case now. And winning six seats out of 15 will put the BJP at the mercy of the Independent MLA, who has proved unreliable over the past year,” he added.