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Warning bells for BJP before 2019? The larger message in Karnataka bypolls

The results will definitely provide a boost to the Congress-JD(S) alliance in the state. But it is important to note that except in Ballari Lok Sabha seat, incumbents have been re-elected in the other four seats.

india Updated: Nov 07, 2018 12:31 IST
Roshan Kishore
Roshan Kishore
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Karnataka bypolls,Congress,JD(S)
Former prime minister and JD(S) National President HD Devegowda with former chief minister Siddaramaiah and Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy in Bengaluru, on Oct 20, 2018.(PTI File Photo)

The Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance has emerged victorious in four out of five seats for which by-polls were held in the state of Karnataka. The results will definitely provide a boost to the Congress-JD(S) alliance in the state. But it is important to note that except in the Ballari Lok Sabha seat, where the Congress defeated the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the first time in 14 years, incumbents have been re-elected in the other four seats.

The BJP has retained the Shivamogga Lok Sabha seat. Janata Dal (S) candidates have been re-elected from the Ramanagara assembly and Mandya Lok Sabha seats. The Congress has retained the Jamkhandi assembly seat. So, is there a larger political message to be drawn from these results?

The question is relevant because the Congress and the JD(S) are expected to have a pre-poll alliance in Karnataka in 2019. An earlier analysis by this author showed that a pre-poll alliance between the Congress and the JD(S) would have won 150 out of the 222 assembly seats in the 2018 elections.

Karnataka’s political geography makes this alliance interesting because the traditional spheres of JD(S) dominance have seen a contest between the Congress and the JD(S). The BJP has mostly been a marginal player in these pockets. Given this peculiarity, a Congress-JD(S) alliance could lead to two conflicting outcomes in the state.

In the traditional JD(S) strongholds, a tie-up between the Congress and the JD(S) would create space for a new opposition force, potentially benefiting the BJP. However, the Congress and the JD(S) could gain from allying with each other in rest of the state where the BJP is a force to reckon with.

HT compared the difference in the combined vote share of the Congress-JD(S) and the BJP in past elections and these by-polls. For assembly seats the average of 2008, 2013 and 2018 elections was considered. The average of the 2009 and 2014 figures was used for calculating vote share difference for Lok Sabha seats. Because of delimitation of seats, earlier elections are not comparable.

In the Ramnagara assembly and Mandya Lok Sabha seat – both are JD(S) strongholds – the combined lead of the Congress-JD(S) over the BJP has come down in the by-polls. To be sure, it is still very large. In the other three seats the alliance has consolidated its position vis-à-vis the BJP. These trends capture the different political realignments discussed above.

The Congress-JD(S) alliance, if it continues, might help the BJP in breaking new ground in traditional JD(S) strongholds. However, from the standpoint of 2019, the BJP might be staring at significant losses in Karnataka. The party won 17 out of 28 Lok Sabha seats in the state in the 2014 elections.

First Published: Nov 07, 2018 07:07 IST