The BJP’s decisive bypoll victory in Karnataka came with an extra-sweet topping for CM B.S. Yediyurappa, who can now settle in without worrying about party strength in the assembly. Among the dozen seats bagged by the BJP out of 15 that went to polls was one in southern Mandya, where Yediyurappa is from. Mandya has been the only district in Karnataka where the BJP never won an assembly election until K.C. Narayana Gowda, one of the Janata Dal (Secular) rebels, won comfortably this time. The BJP, with 117 MLAs, is now past the halfway mark in the 224-member assembly, while the Congress managed to win just two seats. Leader of the opposition Siddaramaiah and Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president Dinesh Gundu Rao sent in their resignations soon after the results came in.
Given the tussles among senior Congress leaders, it was clear to most political observers that a poor show would put Siddaramaiah, a former CM, in a difficult position within his party. The first sign of the party’s struggles in putting its house in order had come in June, following the BJP’s sweep in the Lok Sabha polls, when the Pradesh Congress Committee was dissolved in a bid to reorganise the set-up.
Meanwhile, the JD(S), which drew a blank in the bypolls, faces troubles of its own. Looking to win back the three seats its MLAs had quit to join the BJP, the JD(S) was relying on support from the Vokkaliga community. But it lost even the Krishnarajapete seat in Mandya—a Vokkaliga bastion where the JD(S) and Congress fight fiercely, with scant BJP presence.
Broadly, analysts interpret the outcome of the bypolls caused by the defection of Congress and JD(S) rebels to the BJP as a vote for stability. After all, the elections followed the fall of a bickering Congress-JD(S) coalition government. The BJP had given tickets to 13 rebels—11 of them won back their seats, nearly all with higher margins than they had in 2018. “People seem to have preferred a stable government over an unstable arrangement, and the BJP played that up well,” says analyst A. Narayana, adding that recent statements by Congress and JD(S) leaders about forming a coalition again probably pushed voters away.
All this will also strengthen Yediyurappa’s hold as a strong regional BJP leader, Narayana reckons. There has been a perception that the 76-year-old was not being given a free rein as CM, considering that the party opted for three deputy CMs and made changes in the state BJP unit. The bypoll results are hence being seen as the CM’s personal victory too.
Yediyurappa, on his part, credited his ministers and party workers for the results. This is the BJP strongman’s fourth tenure as CM—the longest was three years (2008-11), but on two other occasions, he had to resign within days unable to prove majority. Now, with the uncertainty over numbers behind him, Yediyurappa appeared eager to settle into the job at hand. Tackling Bangalore’s problems, the CM said, will be a priority just as the backward northern region of Kalyana Karnataka (earlier known as Hyderabad-Karnataka).
Immediately, however, the CM faces the task of appointing new ministers. That will require some deft manoeuvring between loyalists and newcomers. Yediyurappa had kept 16 cabinet berths vacant. Now, following their bypoll victory, the new entrants are expected to make it to the cabinet.
By Ajay Sukumaran in Bangalore