Congress gains

Print edition : September 20, 2013

D.K. Suresh and Ramya coming out of Parliament House after taking oath on August 26. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

BYELECTIONS to a Lok Sabha that is nearing the end of its term is usually an insipid exercise. However, the August 21 byelections to the Bangalore Rural and Mandya seats proved to be exceptions to this norm. The Congress wrested both seats from the Janata Dal(Secular) and turned upside down many a long-held assumption.

The byelections were essentially seen as a face-off between Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who moved to the Congress from the JD(S) in 2006, and JD(S) supremo H.D. Deve Gowda. Doing battle for the Congress were two political greenhorns, actress-turned-politician Ramya, 30, in Mandya, and D.K. Suresh (brother of Congress leader D.K. Shiva Kumar) in Bangalore Rural. Ranged against them were the JD(S) candidates C.S. Puttaraju and Anitha Kumaraswamy, wife of Deve Gowda’s third son H.D. Kumaraswamy. The JD(S) candidates had the support of the combined opposition, which came together in a not-so-secret opportunistic alliance that, in hindsight, turned out to be disastrous. The JD(S) is popularly known as the “father and sons party—JD (Sons)”. The elections were held after Kumaraswamy resigned his Bangalore Rural seat and N. Cheluvarayaswamy his Mandya seat because they preferred to hold the Assembly seats they won in the May elections.

Interestingly, the Congress victory is the least of the political messages of the byelections. Said Kumaraswamy, who is the State president of the JD(S) and Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly: “It is natural for a ruling party to win a byelection, given the administrative clout it wields.” But that does not soften the blow the JD(S) received. For decades it has been seen as the uncrowned king of the “Old Mysore” region and the “true representative” of the region’s dominant Vokkaliga community, which is also the State’s most numerically, economically and politically influential community. That the party failed to retain even one of the seats comes as a big embarrassment for Deve Gowda and his son. It had won the seats in 2009 against Congress rivals and in the May Assembly elections.

The party’s—primarily Kumaraswamy’s—decision to have a tacit understanding (it was, for tactical reasons, not formalised) with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) resulted in Muslims, one of the party’s biggest supporters, opting for the Congress. Many Muslim leaders in the JD(S), most notably B.Z. Zameer Ahmed Khan, a confidant of Kumaraswamy, did not campaign, clearly not wanting to be associated with the ironic picture of Anitha Kumaraswamy campaigning jointly atop a jeep with the BJP’s most prominent Vokkaliga leader, the former Karnataka Home Minister R. Ashok. The two parties had first come together in 2006 but had acrimoniously parted ways 20 months later.

Another reason for the JD(S) losing ground in Mandya, its Vokkaliga fiefdom, is the rising groundswell of public opinion that “the party does not have any clear-cut programme and is run as per the personal agenda of the Deve Gowda family”.

While stating that it was an experiment to consolidate anti-Congress votes, Kumaraswamy admitted that the “tacit understanding” with the BJP “lacked clarity and did not reach the grass-root workers and the electorate”. The BJP, which hardly has a presence in the Old Mysore region, failed to enthuse its cadre or its ardent supporters to come together to defeat the Congress. The party’s leaders, barring Ashok, hardly campaigned along with the JD(S) leadership. For the Congress, the twin victories are a morale booster following the Assembly election results—it won 122 of the 225 seats. Siddaramaiah’s elevation as Chief Minister helped the party get the votes of his Kuruba community, the State’s third most powerful community. The party also benefited from its traditional Dalit vote bank.

The Congress was also able to put up a united campaign with Siddaramaiah and Karnataka Pradesh Congress president G. Parameshwara seemingly sinking their differences.

The Congress’ move to rope in the maverick politician, actor, realtor, party-hopper and legislator, C.P. Yogeshwar, for its campaign also bore dividends. Yogeshwar is an archrival of the Deve Gowda clan and had defeated Anitha Kumaraswamy in the Chennapatna constituency in the Assembly elections. A former Congressman, whom the party rejected just before the Assembly elections, he wields considerable influence among both Vokkaligas and minorities. Most Congressmen are not inclined to read too much into the byelection results and prefer to see it as a “morale booster for both the Congress and the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre”.

Ravi Sharma

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