The declining popularity of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Karnataka was brought out emphatically in the results of the March 7 elections to urban local bodies (ULBs) in the State; the party lost ground even in the traditional Sangh Parivar strongholds of Dakshina Kannada, Udipi, Bellary and Shimoga districts. Elections were held to city corporations, city municipal councils (CMCs), town municipal councils (TMCs) and town panchayats (TPs).
Only around 30 per cent of the State’s total electorate of around 35 million voters were eligible to vote in these elections. Even so, the results could not have come at a worse time for the party as Assembly elections are round the corner. However, former chief minister and senior BJP leader D.V. Sadananda Gowda refused to read too much into the results. He told Frontline that these “highly politicised elections” are not an indicator of how the State will vote in the Assembly elections. “In the 2007 ULB elections we secured the third place behind the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular). But we won the 2008 elections,” he said and added: “Neither can these elections be seen as a referendum.”
Sadananda Gowda said the party should face the fact that the rank and file were “disappointed with the way the party handled the internal strife and compromised ideology in order to run the government”.
The Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, Siddaramaiah, concurred with the view that “results cannot be a referendum on the BJP’s performance”. But he was quick to add that “it shows that the Congress is picking up speed at the right time”.
Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar also put up a brave face stating that the “ULB results were issued based and won’t have an effect on the Assembly polls”.
Of the 4,952 wards/seats where elections were held, the BJP won 906 wards and 21 ULBs as against 1,180 wards and 45 ULBs in 2007. In terms of wards, the Janata Dal (Secular) was the bigger loser, winning only 906 wards as against the 1,503 it held. It tasted victory only in 20 ULBs, down 34 from 2007.
The Congress won 1,960 wards (1,606 in 2007) and emerged the single largest party in 69 ULBs (33 in 2007). The Congress won 39.57 per cent of the wards/seats (32.67 per cent in 2007), and the BJP and the JD(S) each won 18.29 per cent of the wards. Of the two new entrants, the Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP) headed by former BJP Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa won 274 seats (and gained control over three TMCs and two TPs) and the BSR Congress launched by former Minister B. Sriramulu, a protégé of the Reddy brothers of Bellary, won 86 seats.
Independents, a vast majority of whom were contesting because they failed to get nominated by the main parties or because they had the money power to do so, won 778 seats. They will play a vital role in deciding who controls the four city corporations, 26 CMCs, 33 TMCs and 65 TPs where no party has the majority.
The BJP, which controlled the Davangere, Mangalore, Bellary and Hubli-Dharwad city corporations, lost the first three to the Congress and was one seat short of a simple majority in Hubli-Dharwad. The party, as also the BSR Congress, failed to win even a single seat in the Bellary City Corporation where the Congress took 26 seats, the JD(S) one, and Independents were elected to eight wards.
In the Belgaum Corporation, independents won all the seats. In Davanagere City Corporation the BJP managed to win just one ward, while the Congress bagged 36 seats. Fractured mandates were thrown up in Gulbarga City Corporation, where the Congress won 23 of the 55 seats and may cobble up an alliance, and also in Mysore City Corporation.
Indications are that the BJP’s votes suffered serious division in 21 districts because of the KJP and the BSR Congress. The division, however, benefited only the Congress. In the light of these results, the indications are that the two parties could have a pre-poll understanding in some districts for the Assembly election.
The JD(S) has also lost ground in its Old Mysore strongholds of Hassan, Ramanagaram, Bangalore Rural and Mandya. Party State president H.D. Kumaraswamy said the party faced a problem of multiple aspirants for many of the Assembly seats, a lack of funds and a shortage of time to prepare.
For the Congress, which won the Udupi CMC after 45 years and Mangalore City Corporation after 15 years, the success in the ULBs is at best a starting point for a revival. The party looks likely to garner the most number of seats in the Assembly elections only because the other parties are more unpopular. But it is already grappling with a long list of aspirants for the top job (Siddaramaiah, S.M. Krishna, M. Veerappa Moily, Mallikarjuna Kharge, N. Dharam Singh, R.V. Deshpande and G. Parameshwar to name a few). Ticket distribution could also pose a minefield for the Congress high command, with each seat seeing three or four aspirants for the ticket.