Ritesh K Srivastava
The ruling BJP’s electoral drubbing in the recently concluded urban local body polls in Karnataka has come as a mood spoiler for the saffron party, forcing it into an introspective mood.
Holding on to the success achieved by winning Karnataka in 2008 - a game changer for the party as it was its first electoral success in south of the Vindhyas - now seems to be an increasingly difficult proposition.
Buoyed by its electoral performance, the BJP then led by Lingayat strongman BS Yeddyurappa had hoped to consolidate the gains and expand its base beyond Karnataka in the south.
However, its dream to go deeper into south received a severe jolt after Yeddyurapa deserted the party and floated a regional political outfit to teach BJP a lesson for ignoring his demand to be reinstated.
While it was speculated that the unceremonious exit of Yeddyurappa will eventually hurt the party, the tremors triggered by his departure were felt for the first time when the results of the urban local body polls were announced.
The ground shook at the party HQ when the results came in. The BJP lost acres of political space to the opponents, primarily Congress, to win a paltry 907 seats this time as compared to 1180 seats in 2007. The Congress bounced back by winning as many as 1,906 seats, making its victory a remarkable one.
The outcome of the urban body polls is also significant because it may be indicative of the direction wind is blowing ahead of the Assembly Elections, due in a couple of months.
The BJP has reasons to worry even as a resurgent Congress is confident that the mood set by its emphatic victory in the civic polls will hold on till the assembly elections.
The outcome of the urban civic polls is also a pointer to the BJP’s failure to keep end infighting and factionalism in the party and keep it intact. Also, the BJP government’s dismal performance, its failure to give good governance combined with a slew of corruption cases, scandals and caste politics have all dented the party’s poll prospects adversely.
Though the JD-S led by HD Deve Gowda continues to pose a big threat to Congress, it hopes that it would still be able to emerge as a strong alternative to BJP.
BJP’s debacle may also be indicative of the decline in appeal of the ‘Hindutva’ card, played successfully by BS Yeddyurappa in the last assembly elections.
On the other hand, Congress’ victory suggests that corruption and price rise, issues that have been a major source of embarrassment for its government at the Centre, has had no impact on the urban voters who voted against the ruling party for its failure to address the local issues.
The anti-incumbency factor, if it sustains till the May assembly elections, will only bolster Congress’ chances of dislodging the BJP government in the state.
It’s a different issue that in the event of its victory in the assembly elections, Congress may witness wrangling among CM hopefuls like Veerappa Moily, Mallikarjuna Kharge, KH Muniappa, CLP leader Siddaramaiah and PCC chief G Parmeshwar.
The extent of BJP’s debacle can be gauged from its humiliating defeat to the Congress in Udupi, a municipality it has held almost uninterrupted since 1968. Out of the 30 districts in the state, the BJP could gain more seats than other parties only in Bangalore urban and Kodagu.
For 4,952 seats spread in 207 urban local bodies spread across the state, Congress won 1.960 seats, BJP 905 and Janata Dal-Secular also 905. Importantly, voters in 24 seats boycotted the elections.
The Congress bagged majority seats in 22 of the 30 districts. It made strong inroads in BJP bastions like Udupi, Dakshina Kannada and Uttara Kannada on the west coast and Chikamagalur and Shimoga in central Karnataka. Meanwhile, the JD-S won more seats in south Karnataka districts of Kolar, Tumkur, Hassan and Mandya. In north Karnataka district of Belgaum, independents bagged 221 of the 392 seats.
Another important highlight of the civic polls was the utter failure of BSY’s KJP and the party floated by B Sriramulu, the close aide of the state’s powerful mining barons, the Reddy brothers. Ironically, Sriramulu’s party failed to take off even in Reddy brothers’ stronghold Bellary in north Karnataka.
Despite having deserted the BJP, the spotlight had remained on BSY. However his party failed to even archive its ‘limited purpose’ of defeating BJP – KJP won just 274 seats. Though BSY’s KJP spoiled the game for BJP, there is little doubt that it will be a serious contender in the next assembly polls.
BSY was able to hold Shimoga district, but his party lost to Congress in Shikarpura, the town he hails from. Speculation is rife that the BJP may bring BSY back in the party fold in order to stop the corrosion of its Lingayat vote bank. However, the move is indicative of party’s helplessness as it is forced to compromise with someone who has been a constant irritant.
The BJP has surely learnt a bitter lesson from the BSY episode and the urban civic polls. It is high time for the BJP to do a rethink and explore what needs to be done to save its only fort in south from crumbling at a time when the enemy is virtually at the gates.