The by-elections in fifteen constituencies of the state of Karnataka are to be held on December 5, 2019. These elections that were to be held on October 21, 2019 were postponed by the Election Commission, as the Supreme Court was yet to pronounce its verdict regarding the 14 and three disqualified MLAs from Congress and JD(S) respectively. On November 12, 2019 the Court upheld the disqualification of the MLAs whose resignation from the Congress and the JD(S) had resulted in the fall of the Congress-JD(S) coalition government, thus paving the way for the formation of the current BJP government.
However, the Court ruled that the disqualified MLAs could contest in the current by-elections. As NewsClick reported, on November 14, 2019, 16 of the 17 defectors were inducted into the BJP and 13 of them have been given tickets. This of points to the horse-trading that the party obviously indulged in. One may expect the opposition to bring this point up in the coming years.
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Having said that, the by-elections and the candidate lists announced by the three major parties, Congress, BJP and JD(S) are interesting in themselves. Despite the internal squabble within the BJP regarding giving tickets to the defectors, the party has fielded 13 of them in constituencies from where they were previously elected. While Raju Kage switched to Congress, Sharat Bachegowda, the former BJP candidate from Hoskote constituency, who had lost by a very low margin, has filed nomination as an independent candidate. As Newsclick has reported earlier, the squabble within the ruling party will be getting more apparent.
Does BJP hope to win all 13 constituencies by fielding the candidates in their old constituencies? As we all know, voters vote based on the political parties and rarely based on the candidate. In the 2018 assembly elections, only in three of these constituencies BJP lost with very little margin for the Congress; in six of them it had lost with a considerable margin for Congress and in the remaining five constituencies the BJP had lost to the JD(S) with a large margin and in one constituency had lost to Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janatha Party (KPJP). What does this say about the voting trend in these constituencies? And most importantly, what factors will be influencing the voting trends in these elections?
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Table: 2018 vote shares of constituencies going for bypolls in December
The above table shows the vote shares of Congress, BJP and JD(S) in the 2018 assembly elections in the fifteen constituencies that are going for bypolls on December 5, 2019.
As can be seen in the table, in Athani, Yellapur and Hirekerur, BJP had lost to Congress with slightest of the margin and the JD(S)’s performance was negligible, making the other two parties the main contenders. The former BJP candidates Lakshman Snadi, Veerabhadra Patil and Banaka U B in these three constituencies respectively are now replaced by Mahesh Kumatalli, Shivram Hebbar and B C Patil from Congress, who had won from these constituencies.
However, as said earlier, the margins with which the BJP lost to Congress or JD(S) is not constant across these fifteen constituencies.
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Similar trends were seen in the constituencies of Hoskote, Gokak and Vijayanagar. BJP had lost by slightly higher margins. On the other hand, in K R Puram, Kagawad and Shivajinagar, BJP lost to Congress with high margins. In rest of the remaining constituencies BJP had lost badly. In Chikkaballapur, for example, BJP had a vote share of just 3.52 %, while Congress had 51.76% and the JD(S) had 23.25%. Now, BJP, showing a great deal of optimism, has fielded K Sudhakar, a defector from Congress. Would this factor get them votes? This seems to be the logic behind BJP fielding the defecting MLAs in the same constituencies. However, the electoral trends so far suggest that when the difference in the margin is high, as in the cases of several constituencies, the possibility of change in the direction of the wind is not towards the badly performing political parties.
Including the Speaker, the Karnataka Legislative Assembly has 225 members. Out of the total strength of 224, the ‘magic number’ is 113. Congress and JD(S) formed a post-poll coalition along with Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), an independent candidate and a nominated member; the strength of the coalition stood at 118. On the other hand, BJP has 105 seats and one from the KPJP, making an aggregate of 106. With the results of the bypolls for 15 seats, the total house strength will be 223. So, the BJP needs to win at least seven seats in the bypolls to have a majority. Apart from fielding the defectors in the same constituencies, what other factors could BJP be counting on to get votes?
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One has to remember that in the state Assembly elections held on May 12, 2018, none of the political parties got a full mandate and BJP emerged as the single largest party with 105 MLAs, while Congress got 78 seats, JD(S) 37 seats and one seat each was bagged by BSP and KPJP. It has just been a few months since BJP formed the government. The government did not have enough time to project their performance to gain votes in the upcoming elections. The citizens of the flood-hit state are in fact angry with the government for not taking steps to ensure that the relief work began on time.
However, while inducting the 16 defectors into the party at the BJP office in Bengaluru, B S Yeddyurappa reportedly said that the party is confident of winning in all the thirteen seats. However, the trends from the Assembly elections tells a different tale.
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