Karnataka by-elections: Yediyurappa can breathe easy with two wins

Bengaluru: By wrapping up the two Assembly seats—Rajarajeshwari Nagar in Bengaluru Urban district and the rural seat of Sira—the BJP has shown that not only its grip over the electorate remains undimmed but the party is extending its sway into the hinterland of the two opposition parties, namely the Congress and the Janata Dal Secular (JDS).

BJP candidate Munirathna, a turncoat from the Congress, registered a thumping win from the Rajarajeshwari Nagar (RR Nagar) over his Congress rival H. Kusuma by a margin of 58,000 votes. In Sira, BJP’s Dr. Rajesh Gowda, defeated his Congress rival T. B. Jayachandra by a margin of 13,000 votes. Jayachandra had represented the seat in the Assembly six times, although last time (in 2108 elections) the seat was bagged by JDS’s Sathyanarayana, whose death caused the vacancy. His widow, Ammajamma, who was fielded by the JDS to garner sympathy vote, finished third.

The two defeats have come as a rude blow to Mr. D. K. Shivakumar (DKS), the State President of the Congress Party, for whom the by-elections were a test case. It is more so because the R. R. Nagar seat was part of Outer Bengaluru Lok Sabha constituency, a seat represented by his younger brother D. K. Suresh.

The two wins are all likely to boost Chief Minister Mr. B. S. Yediyurappa’s credentials with the High Command from where rumours of his replacement as CM had been emanating during the last few months, given his age. Reports had suggested several successors of him waiting in the wings. Grapevine will come to rest for some time as of now.

Munirathna, who won on Congress ticket during 2018 Assembly elections, had defected to the BJP and disqualified as MLA. In the by-elections held during last December, the election for this constituency was cancelled as large number of voting ID cards were found in illegal possessions of individuals. However, his more than doubling the margin of his victory comes as an element of surprise. Congress had fielded Kusuma, a greenhorn in politics, from the constituency. She is a professor of Information Technology in a local university. Though she garnered over 67,000 votes, could not measure up to the expectation of the electorate. Significantly adverse publicity of Munirathna’s declared assets going up by 103%–from Rs. 43 cr. to 89 cr. during the last two years—did not do him any harm. 

The JDS candidates who finished third in both constituencies do paint a bleak picture of the party. Party patriarch H. D. Devegowda had camped in Sira, a Vokkaligara dominant constituency, for a week to campaign for party candidate Ammajamma.

Mr. Yeddiyurappa can thank his stars as he would now have a free hand to expand his cabinet where at least seven berths need to be filled. The cabinet expansion has been long overdue as party loyalists feel that defectors from the Congress and the JDS have walked away with the plum portfolios after the State saw the collapse of the Congress-JDS coalition in August 2019. It is still not clear if the CM would opt for a mere expansion or go for a reshuffle. Whatever may be his decision, aspirants are too many as even the defectors’ appetite has not been satiated. Defectors assert that it is for them that the BJP is in power while the loyalists threaten that their wait for the reward of office and patience has been over tested and can breach the limit in the wake of newcomers being patronized unduly.

KPCC Chief DKS who had infused some dynamism in the moribund party organization, will need to further pull up his socks as his efforts have been proved inadequate to grab the popular imagination, as has been shown by the bypoll outcome. Rather than caste or community card, the party will need to focus on building cadres on the basis of ideology.

M A Siraj is a veteran journalist and writer based in Bengaluru