Karnataka bypoll fallout: Test for BJP, hope for Congress

By V.S. Karnic, IANS,

Bangalore : The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) defeat in the Karnataka Lok Sabha bypoll Wednesday poses a difficult test for its national leaders – demonstrating that they have the sagacity to learn the right lesson and not dismiss the Congress victory as inconsequential.

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For the Congress, it’s a lesson that its leaders in the state and at the national level have to pull together instead of pulling down each other as the scandals and the infighting in the BJP offer an opportunity to return to power after being in wilderness since 2004.

The state assembly elections are due early next year and may be held before that if the BJP’s worsening leadership tussle continues.

The loss of the Udupi-Chikmagalur constituency, where polling took place March 18, is a blow to Chief Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda as he had won the seat in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. He vacated the seat after becoming chief minister in Aug 4 last year, necessitating the bypoll.

K. Jayaprakash Hegde of Congress, who had lost to Gowda in 2009 by around 27,000 votes, wrested the seat by defeating BJP youth leader V. Sunil Kumar by over 45,000 votes. The vote counting took place Wednesday.

The campaign in the constituency, spread over two districts, Udupi, about 400 km from Bangalore, and Chikmagalur, around 250 km from here, was dominated by the BJP’s scandals in the state and that of the Congress at the central level.

Though it is generally believed that national issues matter even in a Lok Sabha by-election, the result shows that BJP’s home scandals have had greater impact on the voters in the constituency than the 2G and CWG scams of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government at New Delhi.

The BJP, in power for the first time in the state which it once held up as its gateway to rule the south, will do itself and the heavily-dented Karnataka’s reputation a favour if it sees the loss this way.

However, there is doubt as the party’s national leaders have been dismissing the state unit’s mounting scandals and unabashed factional fights for power as “natural for a political party” and saying that the Congress “is worse” than the BJP in this respect.

The doubt stems from the way the national leaders have handled the Karnataka affair.

The only somewhat firm decision the BJP’s national leaders have taken in the four years of the party’s rule, marked by various scandals and infighting, was to ask the party’s first chief minister in south B.S. Yeddyurappa to quit in July last year over mining bribery charges.

‘Somewhat firm’ because it came with a rider and strange understanding, as made public by Yeddyurappa after his bid for reinstatement was resisted by the national leaders.

The condition on which he quit was that he will be brought back if a court clears him of the mining bribery charges.

The bizarre understanding is that Gowda, who took over Aug 4, had agreed to quit after six months!

The defeat in the Udupi-Chikmagalur Lok Sabha bypoll has come at a time when Yeddyurappa has launched a determined bid to unseat Gowda.

He stayed away from campaigning to prove to his detractors in the state unit and central leadership that the party can win elections only if he leads the battle.

Buying that argument will only push Karnataka further into political morass, besides proving that BJP no longer values ‘su-raj’ – good governance.

The party may fall into the trap for short-term gains.

On the other hand, the Congress is buoyed by the victory as the party has fared poorly in the over 20 bypolls held to the assembly since 2008.

Apart from the BJP’s scandals and infighting, what contributed to the Congress victory was that it meticulously planned its campaign.

Former central minister Oscar Fernandes was made campaign in-charge. Four central ministers from the state, S. M. Krishna, Mallikarjun Kharge, M. Veerappa Moily and K.H. Muniyappa, were assigned areas in the constituency for intensive campaigning.

A jubilant Hegde as well other state Congress leaders hailed the win as a pointer to the party’s brightening prospects of ending the BJP’s “misrule” in the state.

Their wish may come true if the BJP continues its ostrich-like attitude to sad state that its Karnataka unit has landed itself and the once-well governed state in.