Karnataka byelections: Here is why Congress lost
Internal divisions and an absence of clarity over its future course of action, including on state of alliance with the Janata Dal (Secular), cost Congress dearly in the Karnataka bypolls, say party leaders and independent analysts.
The defeat in the by-elections in Karnataka on Monday came as a huge political setback for Congress, which was hoping to oust Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from power in one more state after Maharashtra.
Out of the 15 seats for which by-elections were held on December 5, BJP won 12 while Congress secured two and the remaining one was bagged by an Independent. The win has put the BJP government in a comfortable position. There are still two vacant seats in the 225-member state assembly.
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The Congress house was visibly divided and its leaders spoke in contradictory tunes as far as the party’s future strategy is concerned.
While former chief minister Siddaramaiah favoured mid-term elections if the Congress bagged around 12 seats, other leaders such as state chief Dinesh Gundu Rao and G Parameshwara were keen on reviving the alliance with the JD(S). The former CM had been a critic of the functioning of the JD(S)-Congress government, and was seen as among those whose actions led to its downfall earlier this year.
Since the poll outcome, both Gundu Rao and Siddaramaiah have submitted their resignations as the state president and the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader respectively, owning moral responsibility for the poor show in the by-elections. Congress general secretary in-charge of Karnataka KC Venugopal too has come under fire from the state leaders for his “continued absence” during campaigning for the by-polls.
Chandan Gowda of the Bengaluru-based Azim Premji University said the Congress needs to set its house in order, seriously address internal factionalism and hand over the organisation to the new leadership.
“Congress party also needs to revive its support base in north Karnataka and it should make sincere efforts to win back the Lingayats,” he said.
The seats fell vacant after previous Speaker KR Ramesh disqualified 17 Congress and JD(S) legislators whose resignation paved the way for the return of BJP’s BS Yediyurappa as the chief minister.
The disqualification had reduced the effective strength of the assembly to 208 and the number required to form the government was 113.
While BJP had 105 legislators, Congress’ strength stood at 66 and JD(S) had 34 members. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and newly-formed Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janatha Party (KPJP) had one legislator each.
KPJP member R Shankar had merged with the Congress and was among the 17 who were disqualified under the anti-defection law. Shankar, however, wasn’t given a ticket to re-contest from Ranibennur and the seat was won by BJP’s Arunkumar.
The assembly also has an Independent legislator and one lawmaker is nominated by the government. The Supreme Court had upheld disqualification of the 17 legislators but allowed them to contest upcoming by-polls.
The BJP needed six more seats to save its government, while victory in 12 seats would have enabled the Congress-JD(S) to reclaim power in the state though there was no pre-poll alliance between the two parties for the by-polls. With the verdict, the two parties may well be staring at the prospect of remaining in the Opposition till the end of the assembly’s term in 2023.