The BJP was heavy on bluster ahead of the Nanjangud and Gundlupet bye-polls in Karnataka. The party sounded particularly confident once it had secured the cross-over of former Chief Minister SM Krishna, who was set to campaign for his friend and fellow former Congressman V Srinivas Prasad.
Speculation was rife ahead of the polls that BJP had a strong chance to swing a victory in Nanjangud, if not Gundlupet, as the veteran Congress Dalit leader, Srinivas Prasad had defected to the BJP.
The results on the ground, however, have turned in favour of the Congress, with both Kalale Keshavamurthy and Geeta Mahadev Prasad scoring strong victories in Nanjangud and Gundlupet respectively. In Nanjangud, Keshavamurthy won by over 21,000 votes, while Geeta Mahadev Prasad secured a margin of over 10,000 votes.
“We were confident of a win in Gundlupet. The people remember the good work my husband did for them. All the Congress leaders came down to offer their support and CM Siddaramaiah's election strategy has paid off. The BJP may feel that I am power-hungry and that I decided to contest the elections just a few months after my husband’s death. In the end, people showed them who their choice is and that they were not disappointed with my decision,” Gundlupet MLA, Geeta Mahadev Prasad told media persons.
The Congress’ strategist, MLA DK Shivakumar, who is seen by many as the next CM candidate, told media persons that the bye-poll results proved that the people still trusted the Congress.
“Yeddyurappa will make a great opposition leader and I am sure he will be one in 2018,” DK Shivakumar added.
The BJP, however, has refused to see the bye-poll results as any indicator of its fate in the upcoming 2018 Assembly polls.
Many BJP leaders have pointed out that in Nanjangud, the party had polled just 7074 votes in 2013 assembly polls and the votes had gone up to 64,486 this time. In Gundlupet too, the BJP that had got 1989 votes in 2013 had managed to get 79,000 votes in 2017.
Speaking to media persons on Thursday, state party President BS Yeddyurappa conceded defeat, saying, “Srinivas Prasad is a senior and veteran leader. We brought him into our fold because of his winning streak and his experience. We never expected the election to swing this way.”
However, Yeddyurappa was quick to add, “These areas have never been our forte. We tried for the first time and I am pained by the loss. We have to learn from our mistakes in this bye-poll so that it does not repeat in 2018. This is the voter’s choice. They elected whom they saw fit," he added.
To DK Shivakumar, he countered, “DK Shivakumar has money and muscle power and his talks will be shot down in the Assembly elections. If he is calling me the next opposition leader, then that is him being arrogant. We will make sure we realise the Mission 150 in 2018 election. DK Shivakumar's claims don't matter. If he continues like this, people will lose respect for him."
Of course, there were also the usual rumblings about the abuse of advantages by the ruling party in the bye-polls. Udupi-Chikkamagalur MP Shobha Karandlaje, for instance, told the media, “The reason for the loss is because Congress has misused the advantage it has as it is in power. It has tried to influence the district administration officials into convincing people to vote against the BJP."
According to political analyst Muzaffar Assadi, the BJP’s loss in both constituencies reflects a poor choice in trusting in the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the neglect of local calculations. Pointing out that as campaigning progressed, the lack of a Modi wave in Karnataka came to the fore, Assadi says, “This election has been a learning context of the Modi wave.”
In Nanjangud, Assadi observes, the defection of Srinivas Prasad did not prove beneficial to the BJP, since Prasad’s campaign was seen as focusing too much on the wrongs of the Congress towards Dalits.
“The Lingayats, who form the largest population in Nanjangud, began feeling that Sinivas Prasad was not their leader. Firstly, because his campaign was Dalit-centric and also because he came off as aggressive and one who was making false promises since he had been their leader for a while.”
Assadi adds that Prasad’s campaign also faltered in failing to bring Madiga voters into the fold.
The Congress, he adds, has also secured the loyalties of poorer voters in region with its many welfare schemes. “In Mysuru district, the Congress has, over the years, implemented many schemes for the poor. If they voted for the BJP, there were fears that the BJP would take away all the ‘bhagya schemes’ like Anna Bhagya, Ksheera bhagya. The BJP is seen as a party which appeals to the upper class and that they would take away people’s benefits,” explains Assadi.
A final point Assadi notes is the strong leaning towards the Congress and the JD (S) from Vokkaliga voters in the region. “The Vokkaliga leaders in Mandya showered support on Krishna after his defection but with Kalale Keshavamurthy winning by a wide margin, it has been proved that the JD(S) had a better hold on Vokkaliga votes. Kalale had to repeatedly tell the voters to vote for hand symbol as they still associate him with someone who was a close aide of Deve Gowda,” says Assadi.
In Gundlupet, he points out, a crucial misstep by the BJP was its negative campaign against Geeta Mahadev Prasad. “The women, who usually have lesser turnout, showed up in huge numbers this time to vote. They came to show support for her against the mudslinging by Pratap Simha.”