Jan 2, 2009

India - BJP consolidation in Karnataka

In a clear mandate for stability, voters have chosen candidates of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in five of the eight Karnataka Assembly constituencies where by-elections were held. The Janata Dal (Secular) was the victor in the remaining three. Evidently, the seven-month-old B.S. Yeddyurappa government is still in its honeymoon period with the electorate. The BJP might have forced seven of the eight by-elections by engineering defections from the Congress and the JD(S) through a manipulative process codenamed ‘Operation Kamala’ (after the party symbol Lotus) but voters seemed more concerned with the larger issue of political stability. The BJP fielded five of the seven defectors, four from the JD(S) and three from the Congress, in the by-elections and the voters returned all of them. With 115 members, the ruling party will now be in an unassailable position in the 224-member Assembly. Falling just short of a majority in the May 2008 Assembly, it was clearly uncomfortable with its government being at the mercy of six independents. Defections would have attracted disqualification under the provisions of the anti-defection law. So Mr. Yeddyurappa sensibly persuaded the defectors to resign and contest again on the BJP ticket. Four of the defectors were also made Ministers before they were elected on the BJP ticket. Now that the by-elections are out of the way, and he need not lose sleep over the possibility of the government losing majority support, Chief Minister Yeddyurappa will be expected to deliver on his promise of development.

The JD(S) also takes away positives from the polls. It has demonstrated its hold in the Old Mysore region of the State. But the party will derive the most satisfaction from its success in Madhugiri, where Anitha Kumaraswamy, wife of former Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, won by pushing the BJP to the third place. It is surely significant that the Congress finished second in six constituencies but failed to win a single seat. Whether in power or in the opposition, the party seems constitutionally incapable of shaking off its legacy of factional fights. Some of the top party leaders, including S. Siddaramaiah, stayed away from the campaign. What is clear is that with five months to go for the 15th general election, the Congress in Karnataka is in poor shape. Given the national political situation, any pre-election understanding with the JD(S) to take on the BJP in the Lok Sabha contest can be ruled out. The fairly rapid consolidation of the BJP’s position in Karnataka is at sharp variance with the situation in the three other southern States where the saffron party has no electoral salience.

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