Through Karnataka, the Congress may be sending out a message to all its potential allies across India that it is ready for any ‘sacrifice’ to defeat the NDA in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls
Considering that the Congress is looking at Karnataka as a sort of laboratory for working out alliances at the national level during the crucial Lok Sabha election next year, the recently held by-election to three LS seats have given enough fodder to all parties to fine-tune their strategies for the 2019 polls.
Many who were criticising the Election Commission of India (ECI) for scheduling elections to Mandya, Ballari and Shivamogga Lok Sabha seats -- as the winners will have less than six months’ tenure -- will be thanking the ECI after the results came.
On October 6, when the bypoll results were announced, the Janata Dal (Secular) retained Mandya by winning it with a huge margin, the BJP held on to Shivamogga with some difficulty, but surprisingly lost Ballari to the Congress, which won the seat by the biggest ever margin of 2.28 lakh votes.
After the Congress high command took the decision to form an alliance with the JD(S) to break the impasse produced by the assembly elections in May and hand over chief ministership to HD Kumaraswamy -- in order to keep the BJP out of power -- the rumblings of discontent within the Congress continued unabated, threatening the survival of the government.
However, the direct channel between Kumaraswamy and JD(S) chief HD Deve Gowda with Congress President Rahul Gandhi helped stave off many a crisis in the last five months. The same channel was used to get on board former chief minister Siddaramaiah, who never reconciled to the alliance with the JD(S).
During the election campaign HD Deve Gowda and Siddaramaiah not only shook hands publicly after a gap of 12 years, but also campaigned together, signalling that the Vokkaliga and Kuruba leaders had joined hands.
Siddaramaiah had to persuade his colleagues to campaign for the JD(S) candidate in Mandya -- a seat which Congress workers have been building for more than three decades. For instance, in the 2013 polls, the JD(S) candidate scraped through by a margin of around 5,000 votes. This time the JD(S) candidate defeated his BJP rival by a margin of 2.89 lakh votes.
Though the Congress-JD(S) combine lost Shivamogga, it showed how effective the alliance is. The Congress has won 11 of the 15 elections from Shivamogga so far. Former chief minister S Bangarappa held sway over this region. However, since 2000, BJP’s BS Yeddyurappa has converted it into his stronghold. In 2013, Yeddyurappa won Shivamogga by a margin of 3.6 lakh votes. This time, Yeddyurappa’s son BY Raghavendra was BJP’s candidate and Madhu Bangarappa, S Bangarappa’s son was the JD(S)-Congress candidate. The alliance was able to reduce the BJP’s victory margin to just about 52,000 votes.
The BJP’s defeat in Ballari to Congress’ VS Ugrappa, who was seen as an outsider, is said to be the result of an outpouring of public anger against mining baron Janardhana Reddy and his associates, including backward class leader Sriramulu.
The Congress-JD(S) alliance has realised that with better coordination and better selection of candidates, they can give the BJP a run for its money in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Currently, the BJP holds 16, the Congress 10 and the JD(S) two seats, which may change dramatically, when the BJP is confronted with one-on-one fight.
The JD(S) has marginal presence in areas outside south Karnataka to help Congress with transferrable votes, but what the Congress will certainly gain from aligning with the JD(S) is that it will benefit from Deve Gowda’s vast political knowledge and tactical brilliance in working out the caste combinations in winning the elections.
The JD(S), in all likelihood, will bargain for more seats to contest in 2019 and the Congress may well concede them ‘in the interest of opposition unity’ and defeating the BJP.
Through Karnataka, the Congress may also be sending out a message to all its other potential allies across the country that it is ready for any ‘sacrifice’ to defeat the NDA at the Centre.
Ramakrishna Upadhya is a senior journalist. Views are personal.For more Opinion pieces, click here.