Rasheeda Bhagat

Karnataka bypoll results dampen BJP’s Diwali

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on November 12, 2018 Published on November 12, 2018

Maha alliance Gathering steam   -  THE HINDU

How the Congress fares in the upcoming Assembly polls in 5 States will be a key barometer in its role in an anti-BJP alliance

The 4:1 victory scored by the Congress-JD(S) alliance in the Karnataka bypolls for three Lok Sabha seats and two Assembly constituencies, would have certainly dampened the festival spirit for the BJP high command. Even though the south is not the BJP’s bastion, the margins with which the three Lok Sabha seats were won — by both the Congress (Ballari by nearly three lakh votes) and JD(S) (Mandya by about 3.25 lakh votes) candidates, and barely 52,000 votes by the BJP in Shivamogga, is a shot in the arm of the non-NDA coalition for 2019.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, former Karnataka CM YS Yeddyyurappa had won Shivamogga by a whopping 3.63 lakh votes; but this time his son BY Raghavendra won only by a margin of 52,148 votes. Congress won from the BJP stronghold of Ballari, and both the Assembly seats were bagged by the Congress-JD(S) combine, taking their tally in the House to a comfortable 120.

A boost to Opposition unity

These results must have added a spring in the step of TDP chief and Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu, who is stitching up a non-NDA alliance for the 2019 polls. His meeting in Chennai with DMK President MK Stalin was preceded by one with former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda and Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy and said the “Karnataka bypoll results clearly show that the BJP can’t stand up to the might of a united opposition.”

While Naidu said his first priority is to “save the nation”, Gowda called upon “secular parties, including the Congress” to come on board in a non-BJP coalition and attacked the Modi government for “destabilising constitutionally created institutions like the CBI and the RBI.” Kumaraswamy added that his father and Naidu were “old friends and 1996 will be repeated in the 2019 elections; their arithmetic is good.”

But good arithmetic pales into insignificance when pitched against inflated egos. The success of stitching up a Maha alliance of opposition parties hinge on whether Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee come on board, because the big numbers for a Lok Sabha victory lie in these States, as well as Bihar, which has 40 seats. The JD(U) chief and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar recently made it clear to BJP chief Amit Shah that the JD(U)’s support for the NDA cannot be taken for granted unless it is given “a respectable 17 seats”. By this demand, Nitish has set the cat among the pigeons as BJP wants to retain 20-21 seats (in 2014 it won 21 seats against the JD(U) getting only 2). Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP, which had won 6 seats in 2014 will not settle for a lesser number. It has to also contend with another tricky ally, RLSP leader Upendra Kushwaha, whose party had won three seats last time.

As Nitish has upped the ante, Kushwaha is also giving indications of joining Lalu Prasad’s RJD by colourful comments such as: “If milk from the Yadavs and rice from the Kushwahas are blended, we can make kheer!” But as of now he remains in the NDA and Shah will have resort to his own unique arithmetic to hold the NDA together in Bihar.

Battleground of Odisha

After scoring recent victories in the North-East the BJP is on an overdrive in expanding its presence in the eastern States of West Bengal and Odisha. Whereas the former remains a Mamata bastion if the results of recent bypolls in the State are an indication, in Odisha the Biju Janata Dal’s Naveen Patnaik is bound to face a anti incumbency after an 18-year rule. After all, the BJD was in the NDA from 2000-2009, when it parted company after the communal violence in Kandhamal. Patnaik’s charisma and hold over Odisha has been so strong that in 2014, the BJP, could win only one seat in Odisha.

But all eyes are now on the five States that go to the polls this month — Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram. The infighting in the BJP in Rajasthan and some smart poll management by Congress’s Sachin Pilot in the February 18 bypolls, has given the Congress an edge in nearly all the pre-poll surveys. After the Congress suffered its worst humiliation in the State in 2014, failing to get a single seat, under Pilot’s leadership, it managed to win back Alwar and Ajmer Lok Sabha seats by good margins this February. But in MP and Chhattisgarh, where it should have capitalised on the anti-incumbency factor, the terrain seems rough.

But if the grand old party manages to defy odds and puts in an impressive performance in these three States, it will get a morale booster to claim a leadership role in a anti-BJP coalition.

Published on November 12, 2018
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