By-poll results are generally said to favour ruling parties, and there is currently a Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress coalition government in Karnataka. But the last time Congress won the Jayanagar assembly constituency was in 2004, and its win there on Wednesday should worry the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) because of its near term ramifications.
Janata Dal (Secular) leader Danish Ali, who is the convener of the JD(S)-Congress coordination committee, told Business Standard that Jayanagar's example is set to become a template upon which the two parties will contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. "You shall see the alliance will sweep Karnataka in 2019. We will get 25 of 28-seats,” Ali, who along with Congress leaders is already working on strategizing for Lok Sabha polls, said.
The JD(S) did not field a candidate in Jayanagar, which falls in the parliamentary constituency of union minister Ananth Kumar. Jayanagar is considered somewhat of a BJP bastion. Kumar has been winning the Bengaluru south seat since 1996, and BJP's B N Vijayakumar won the seat with huge margins in 2008 and 2013. Vijayakumar's death on May 4 had caused the election on the seat to be postponed.
While the JD(S) had fielded a candidate in the other by-poll in Karnataka – in Rajarajeshwari, or RR Nagar, seat on May 28 – which the Congress won, it didn’t in Jayanagar. It expects the Congress to return the favour in at least one of the three Lok Sabha seats that are up for by-polls in Karnataka.
MPs from Mandya, Shimoga and Bellary have quit the Lok Sabha after being elected to the state assembly. Mandya was held by JD(S) leader C S Puttaraju, while Shimoga MP was BJP’s B S Yeddyurappa and Bellary was won in 2014 by BJP's B Sreeramulu.
Interestingly, as the votes for Jayanagar were being counted, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted a fitness challenge to Karnataka Chief Minister and JD (S) leader H D Kumaraswamy. Ali said the Congress-JD(S) alliance was unshakeable.
The Jayanagar win is of some solace to the Congress, which had been losing ground to the BJP in Karnataka’s urban areas, particularly in Bengaluru. With Jayanagar, the Congress has now won 15 of Bengaluru's 28 assembly seats. Congress party’s state social media chief Srivatsa said the Jayanagar win has opened the doors for his party winning the Bengaluru South Lok Sabha seat in 2019. The Congress tally in the state assembly is now 80.
The Congress-JD(S) alliance in 2019, however, would also mean that the two parties would cede the opposition space to the BJP in south Karnataka region, where the latter party has traditionally been weak. But Ali disagrees with this analysis. “The bitter war of words between the Congress and JD(S) during the Karnataka assembly polls benefitted the BJP in that region. It is now a much bigger threat in that region than previously,” he said. Ali pointed out how BJP won assembly seats in south Karnataka that were earlier considered JD(S) or Congress bastions, including Hassan city seat.
The BJP would now be hoping to sow seeds of discord in the alliance or discredit it. The infighting within the Congress, with several of its legislators unhappy, hasn’t helped matters for the alliance. But both Congress and JD(S) leaders dismiss these as teething troubles that any coalition government encounters. Ali pointed at the example of the BJP and Peoples Democratic Party alliance in Jammu and Kashmir that took several months to take shape. “In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP won a big majority but still had to spend over a week to elect its chief minister and form the government. We did it within days,” he said.