Why Yediyurappa cannot take comfort in bye-polls victory in Karnataka

BJP scraped through in Belagavi and won Basavakalyan with the proxy help of Kumaraswamy.
BS Yediyurappa
BS Yediyurappa
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The results of the Karnataka bye-elections, with the ruling BJP winning two of the three seats — of which one was by a wafer-thin margin — cannot be seen as a comforting factor for Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa, who is already under pressure for the lax handling of COVID-19 management, as the verdict has provided another opportunity for his detractors within to revive their attack against him.

The BJP winning the Belagavi Lok Sabha seat and Basavakalyan Assembly bye-poll in Bidar district with the proxy help of the JD(S), which had fielded a Muslim candidate to divide the Congress votes, cannot be attributed as a victory to Yediyurappa or his party. For, in the results declared to 10 Urban Local Bodies (ULB) recently, the BJP was routed majorly, managing to retain only Kodagu district. The BJP drew a blank in Yediyurappa's home district Shivamogga and of the 266 wards in the 10 ULBs, the BJP won 57 and was pushed to the third position. 

The BJP losing the Maski assembly seat in Raichur district is a personal setback to Yediyurappa as the constituency's electoral management was given to his son, the party's vice-president BY Vijayendra, after the good show he put up in KR Pet and Sira Assembly constituencies. In both these constituencies, the BJP opened its account after decades of attempts. Money was released for the development of Maski constituency and Yediyurappa, along with his son, campaigned intensively. 

The Maski defeat is also an indicator that the BJP's ‘Operation Lotus’ is on the wane. Of the 18 Assembly bye-polls held after Yediyurappa came to power in July 2019, the BJP had won in 14, as these vacancies were caused by Congress-JD(S) MLAs crossing over to the BJP under Operation Lotus.

The Congress, which was going through a bad phase after losing in the bye-polls since December 2019, has sprung back to life. The party's sole victory in the Maski assembly by-poll is an indicator that the BJP's Operation Lotus is withering. 

KPCC president DK Shivakumar, reacting to the bye-polls verdict, said: “The results have heralded a message of the voters wanting a change.”' In the ULB polls, the Congress got a majority winning 120 wards and gaining control of seven of the 10 ULBs.

Reasons for the BJP's debacle 

A stronghold of the BJP, Belagavi Lok Sabha seat was represented by former Union minister Suresh C Angadi since 2004, who died of COVID-19 last year. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Angadi had won by a margin of over three lakh votes and now the victory by 5,240 votes after coming close to losing is because of the Congress candidate.

The party's decision to field Angadi's wife Mangala was to garner sympathy votes after the Congress gave the ticket to its party MLA Satish L Jarkiholi from Yemakanmardi in Belagavi district.

According to BJP insiders, making industries minister Jagadish Shettar, who is not an aggressive campaigner, in charge of the bye-poll, was not a wise decision. The sole reason for him being put in charge was because Shettar's son is married to Angadi's daughter. With the Lingayats and Marathas votes being important for the candidate's victory, the Panchamasali sect of the Lingayat community was unhappy with the ticket not being given to them.

But the major upset or for the victory margin to come down for the BJP is said to have been the Maratha votes, which until the 2019 elections were with the party. Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut played an active part in campaigning for the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samithi candidate, which is an umbrella organisation for the Maratha votes. Former minister Ramesh L Jarkiholi stayed away from campaigning following his alleged involvement in a sleaze CD. 

In Basavakalyan, the Congress had hopes of retaining the seat and had given the ticket to late MLA B Narayanarao's wife Mallamma. Basavakalyan has been a fortress of the Janata Parivar since 1983, but its winning spree was halted in 2018, when Narayanarao won. The BJP was not confident of a victory here as there was opposition to the candidate Sharanu Salgar, as he was seen as an outsider and there was a rebel candidate, former MLA Mallikarjun Khuba in the fray.

However, Kumaraswamy's tactic of fielding a Muslim, Sayed Yasrab Ali Quadri, to divide the Muslim votes, paid off. The candidate managed to secure 10,000 plus votes which could have gone to the Congress. AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi, who has been trying to get a foothold in other states apart from Andhra Pradesh, had fielded a candidate who also cut into the Congress votes.

In Maski, a Reserved constituency, BJP candidate Prathapgouda Patil had won in 2018 on a Congress ticket by a narrow margin of 213 votes, which had been challenged by Basannagouda R Turvihal in the court. The Congress realising that Turvihal had the goodwill of the people, admitted him into the party and gave the ticket. 

Reacting to his defeat, Patil said he had been betrayed by some insiders. However, Vijayendra in a tweet said: “We will ensure that your efforts don't go waste.”

Commenting on the results, Sandeep Shastri, Vice-Chancellor, Jagran Lakecity University, Bhopal and National coordinator, lLokniti said: “The tight nature of the race in all the three bye-polls is an indication of the nature of the race and the internal dynamics of the major parties.” On the face of it, it should have looked like an easy win for the BJP in Belagavi. They have been winning this seat for some time. The sympathy factor should have worked in favour of the wife of the former MP. 

Yet the BJP faced rough weather in defending the seat. This has a lot to do with the internal contradictions that the BJP faces in the district with the entry of one of the Jarkiholi brothers (Ramesh) into the party and the recent controversies he has been sucked into. Ramesh Jarkiholi represents one centre of power within the BJP in Belagavi. To further queer the pitch, a brother of Ramesh was fielded. In Basavakalyan, the BJP candidate winning could be a result of the concerted effort by the state leaders to salvage this seat. Maski presents the third picture. The full support of the BJP cadres behind its candidate did not appear to be visible. 

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