Karnataka byelection results give BJP comfortable majority in Assembly

Published : December 09, 2019 19:41 IST

Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa. A file picture. Photo: G.P. SAMPATH KUMAR

Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa has led the Bharatiya Janata Party to a big victory in the Assembly byelections in Karnataka, with the party’s candidates winning 12 of the 15 seats where elections were held on December 5, most of them by huge margins. The Congress won two seats and an independent, a BJP rebel, wrested one. This victory gives the five-month-old BJP government a comfortable majority in the Assembly and puts an end to all talk of the BJP central leadership looking to replace Yeddyurappa as the party’s leader in the State.

The BJP’s tally of 117 seats now takes it comfortably past the half way mark in the 224-member Assembly. (Two seats—Rajarajeshwari Nagar and Maski—are vacant and election petitions challenging the results of the May 2018 election are pending in the Karnataka High Court.) Besides, the party makes a foray into the ‘old Mysore’ Vokkaliga heartland, hitherto a preserve of the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular), with its victory in K.R. Pete.

The seats where byelections were held were: Yellapur, Ranebennur, Vijayanagara, Yeshwantpur, Mahalakshmi Layout, Chikkaballapura, K.R. Puram, K.R. Pete, Athani, Kagwad, Gokak, Hirekerur (all won by the BJP), Hunsur, Shivajinagar (both won by the Congress) and Hoskote (BJP rebel).

While the BJP is celebrating—the party’s seats have been wrested from the Congress (10) and the Janata Dal (Secular) (2)—the results have raised troubling questions over rebels and turncoats being rewarded. The byelections were triggered after 17 MLAs from the Congress and the JD(S) defected in a bid to bring down the Congress-JD(S) coalition government of H.D. Kumaraswamy. The motivation for these legislators to quit their parties seemed to be the thirst for positions of power.

The 17 rebels tried to resign but were disqualified by the then Speaker, a ruling that the Supreme Court upheld. However, the court allowed them to contest the byelections. And the BJP was ready to oblige, fielding 13 of the disqualified legislators—all of whom joined the saffron party after the apex court decision—from the same constituencies they had won in 2018 on Congress and JD(S) tickets.

Eleven of the ‘rebels’ won this time. The two who lost were H. Vishwanath (Hunsur), who shifted loyalties from the Congress in July 2017 to the JD(S) and then to the BJP, and M.T.B. Nagaraj (Hoskote) Karnataka’s richest politician going by his declared assets of over Rs.1,200 crore. The BJP also left nothing to chance, with Yeddyurappa stating during the campaigning that successful candidates would be given ministerial berths. Yeddyurappa’s Cabinet has 18 Ministers, including himself, and can accommodate 16 more. Yeddyurappa has the tough task of fulfilling his promise to the rebels and also accommodating BJP loyalists who were ignored in the first round. Highly placed BJP sources told Frontline that Nagaraj is likely to be made an MLC and accommodated in the Cabinet.

C.T. Ravi, Minister for Tourism, Kannada and Culture, said: “They [the rebels] had resigned their seats, made sure the coalition government fell and helped us [BJP] come to power. It is natural that we have to reward them. And the voters of their constituencies have endorsed their actions.” Ravi sees no problem in politicians who do not ascribe to the BJP’s ideology joining the saffron party just for power. “Hopefully the party will digest them. In the past also there have been people who didn’t have the BJP’s ideology. Gradually they will ascribe to our ideology.”

According to many veteran politicians, the results are a blow to democracy. The widely held view was that while earlier politicians stepped down from a government or a party over differences relating to the government’s or party’s programmes, “today defections were caused purely by greed and quest for power and money”.

Said Congressman D.K. Shivakumar: “It seems like the people have given the green signal for defections.” Added Janata Dal Secular leader Basavaraj Horatti: “This has brought democracy into question. The rebels resigned not on ethical issues but only in their quest for money and power. Despite knowing this the voters have voted them back to power. The poor state of the economy and local issues like agricultural distress have had no impact. Only caste and money have played a role.”

While it would be myopic to put down the BJP’s showing to just one reason, veteran Congress leader and former Minister R.V. Deshpande attributed two primary reasons for the results. He said: “The BJP’s pitch, asking for votes in the name of stability for the Yeddyurappa government, seems to have struck a chord. An election-weary voter probably thought that it was in the best interests of the State to let the Yeddyurappa government continue. Also, Yeddyurappa’s announcement that all rebels who win will be made Ministers prompted people to vote for them. The representative of their constituency was to be guaranteed a ministership.”

The Congress, despite nurturing constituencies like K.R. Puram, Mahalakshmi Layout and Chikkaballapur when it was in power, still lost owing to the rebellion by its representatives. The party’s poor showing has prompted former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah to step down as the leader of the Congress Legislature Party. Another casualty was Dinesh Gundu Rao, who resigned as president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee.

As for 78-year-old Yeddyurappa, the results are seen as a reaffirmation of his position as a mass leader. He became Chief Minister in 2008, but was forced to step down in 2011 after charges of malfeasance. A few months later he even left the party he had belonged to for 40 years, only to return to it two years later. Then, in 2018 he led the party in the Assembly election and helped it win 104 seats and emerge as the single largest party in the Assembly. Political shenanigans helped him become Chief Minister, but it lasted all of two days. The December 5 byelection results may have turned the tide in his favour yet again.