The results of the bypolls in Karnataka have set the stage for the 2019 general elections with the ruling JD(S)-Congress alliance wresting four out of five seats.
The Bharatiya Janata Party's consolation win came in Shivamogga parliament seat where party president B.S. Yeddyurappa's son B.Y. Raghavendra defeated former chief minister late S. Bangarappa's son and JD(S) candidate S. Madhu Bangarappa by a margin of 52,148 votes, which is much less compared to its previous victory when Yeddyurappa had won by three lakh votes.
The JD(S) made up for the loss by winning the Mandya parliament seat and Ramanagara assembly seat as L.R Shivarame Gowda and Anita Kumaraswamy defeated the BJP candidates by huge margins of 3,24,943 votes and 1,09,137 votes respectively. In fact, Anitha had a cakewalk as the BJP candidate L. Chandrashekhara, who had quit the Congress to contest the bypolls on a BJP ticket, pulled out of the contest two days before the polling.
The Congress party managed to retain the Jamkhandi assembly seat which fell vacant after sitting MLA Siddu Nyamagouda died in a car accident.
What has shaken the BJP and enthused the Congress is the latter's thumping victory in Ballari— the mineral rich district that had made headlines for illegal mining causing the first BJP government in south India to collapse.
The conquest of Ballari by the Congress party, which started with the assembly polls in May, was complete with the defeat of BJP candidate and Molkalmuru MLA B. Sriramulu's sister J. Shantha by an "outsider", V. S. Ugrappa, in the parliamentary bypolls held on November 3. The constituency that was in the stranglehold of BJP's Reddy brothers and Sriramulu for the last 14 years has now been wrested by Congress candidate Ugrappa, who won with a huge margin of 2,43,161 votes.
The tectonic shift in politics in Ballari was evident this May after two sitting MLAs and close aides of Reddy brothers jumped ship to the Congress. This had helped the Congress win six out of eight assembly seats. After the Supreme Court gave the restraining order banning the entry of the jailed mining baron G. Janardhan Reddy (now on bail), his close aide and sitting BJP MP Sriramulu, was moved out by the party to contest from two assembly seats—Molkalmuru and Badami. Sriramulu won the Molkalmuru seat but lost Badami to the then chief minister Siddaramaiah by a wafer thin margin of 2,000 votes.
This time, the battle for Ballari turned into a straight fight between Sriramulu, a Valmiki strongman, and Water Resources Minister and Vokkaliga strongman D.K. Shivakumar, who was made in-charge of the Ballari bypoll by the Congress.
The bypoll result, said to be a prelude to the general elections in 2019, has been a shot in the arm for the JD(S)-Congress alliance. While the poll outcome hints at the success of the seat-sharing formula of the allies, it is sure a wake-up call for the BJP which has set an ambitious target of 25 out of 28 seats for the 2019 polls.
Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy was quick to hail the JD(S)-Congress alliance as a "success formula". "The Karnataka formula and our victory today have proved that the mood of the people is in favour of the opposition parties, be it the Congress or the the regional parties. I personally feel Congress should lead the united opposition in the 2019 polls," said Kumaraswamy.
Former chief minister and coordination committee chairman Siddaramaiah expressed his happiness over his close aide Ugrappa's thumping victory by tweeting that “people of Bellari have returned to light from darkness on the day of Deepavali."
Meanwhile, Yeddyurappa lauded the efforts of the BJP workers for the victory in Shivamogga and good performance in Mandya where the party had little presence. He exhorted the party workers to focus on 2019 elections to ensure Prime Minister Narendra Modi's win.
Raghavendra admitted that the winning margin was lower and attributed it to the lower polling percentage.
"Last time, 12 lakh votes were polled; this time it was only 10.5 lakh. So, the winning margin is lowered. Let me remind the Congress party that it had won 12 out of 17 elections in the constituency. But today, Congress does not even have a candidate to contest and had to support a JD(S) candidate."
JD(S) patriarch H.D. Devegowda congratulated the people on supporting a “development-centric administration”. "Voters have given a befitting reply to those who wanted to destabilise the JD(S)-Congress alliance," said Gowda indirectly referring to the BJP's futile attempts to form the government.
Shivakumar said Ugrappa should now raise his voice in the parliament for the welfare of Ballari and Karnataka. "My opponents dubbed me as an outsider and casteist. I would like to thank Sriramulu Anna for allowing peaceful conduct of polls. Shanthakka, too, sought votes in a democratic way. We worked hard so that Ugrappa should raise his voice in the parliament for the welfare of Ballari and Karnataka. Now, we want to focus on development alone," he said.
Taking a dig at the BJP leaders who had been claiming that the coalition government would collapse before Diwali, Shivakumar said, "Yeddyurappa and (Jagadish) Shettar had claimed that the BJP would form the government in Karnataka on November 6. They approached some of our MLAs. They are roaming with money in their bags. We are waiting to see the BJP forming the government. They should understand that others are not sitting idle."
"My victory has once again proved that the voters of this district share a special bond with my family. I want to develop Ramanagara as a model constituency," said Anitha Kumaraswamy, who, during the poll campaign, had faced the wrath of a section of people for allegedly neglecting the constituency.
KPCC chief Dinesh Gundurao said it was a resounding win for the Congress-JD(S) coalition in Karnataka. "It is a 4-1 thrashing to BJP. People have rejected the negative politics of the BJP in Karnataka. It also shows the abject failure of the Modi government in addressing people’s issues," he said.