The outcome of the bypolls in Karnataka is nothing short of a debacle for the BJP, and a much-needed boost for the JD(S)-Congress coalition, which now seems strong enough to last till the coming parliamentary polls at least. The results have come as a rude awakening for the BJP which was hoping to ride on the momentum it gained after emerging as the single largest party in the recent Assembly polls. The ground seems to be sinking for the party even in traditional strongholds.
It is not just the defeat, but the margin of defeat that should worry the BJP. Ballari, considered the impregnable fortress of the Reddy brothers and Sriramulu, has fallen to the Congress with a record margin of 2.28 lakh votes. In Shivamogga, though the party candidate B Y Raghavendra won, the victory margin has fallen to 52,000 from the 3.5 lakh his father B S Yeddyurappa secured in 2014.
It seems to be paying the price for the individualistic and family-based politics that has gained strength of late. Elections for the Ballari and Shivamogga seats were reduced to family affairs with Yeddyurappa devoting his energy to ensure his son’s victory, and Sriramulu toiling for his sister J Shantha.
Many top BJP leaders in the state stayed away from campaigning. On the other hand, the rival camp put up a united ‘do-or-die’ fight with Siddaramaiah, H D Kumaraswamy, H D Deve Gowda, D K Shivakumar and G Parameshwara leading the blitzkrieg. The BJP’s plan to exploit the bickering between the coalition partners and play the narrative of being the victim of an ‘unholy alliance’ between the Congress and JD(S) has failed to impress the voters.
Bolstered by the bypoll success, the coalition poses a tough challenge for the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The only consolation for the party is the huge rise in its vote share in Mandya, but the gain is unlikely to get converted into seats in the region dominated by the JD(S) and Congress. The BJP will do well to learn its lessons. It can no longer take the JD(S)-Congress coalition lightly, nor can it depend solely on individuals to deliver results.