If the Supreme Court had not allowed rebel Congress and Janata Dal(S) candidates to contest the upcoming December 5 Assembly bye-elections in Karnataka on a BJP ticket that would have saved Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa and his party considerable headache.
Instead, the apex court in its recent ruling upheld the validity of the rebels’ disqualification, but allowed them to contest in the bye-polls. Consequently, for the 15 seats that are going for elections, Yediyurappa chose 13 candidates from the Congress-JD(S) camp to contest on a BJP ticket ignoring pleas from the party’s own aspirants.
This has fanned a full-fledged revolt in most constituencies where grassroots BJP workers suddenly find they have to embrace their erstwhile rivals from the Congress and JD(S).
The BJP needs to win at least eight seats of the 15 to cross the mid-way mark of 112, for a majority. If it does not, it will create more instability in the state as the party will then have to depend on the JD(S) to get a majority. Or, try breaking up or poaching from either the Congress or the JD(S) in Operation Lotus 3.0, to remain in power.
As it stands, the BJP is up against serious odds in the 15 constituencies as none of these belonged to the party in the first place. Further, to add to its insecurity, widespread resentment has been reported within the BJP across most of the constituencies.
Yediyurappa, who appears to have personally been involved in the exercise to break the Congress and JD(S) in July has taken a firm position in fulfilling what appears to be his side of the bargain, by insisting on handing over tickets to almost all those rebels who shifted allegiance to him.
Former Congress minister and one among the defectors, Roshan Baig, has been an exception because of his alleged links to the accused in the IMA scam, a ponzi scheme worth several crores that went bust. Yediyurappa has met Baig and has reportedly attempted to assuage him and requested him to work for the BJP candidate in his home turf, Shivajinagar constituency in Bengaluru city.
What the BJP state leadership and the party high command in Delhi are finding to difficult to control or resolve is the tense relationship at a local level between the BJP on one side with the Congress and the JD(S) on the other side.
In the May 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress and the JD(S) tasted bitter medicine by contesting as an alliance. The two parties, which have had a history of testy relationship at the grassroots, found their newfound friendship coming unstuck due to grassroot realities.
The beneficiary was the BJP as disgruntled workers of the Congress and the JD(S) deserted their parent parties and voted for it. This was in addition to the widespread perception that most voters simply voted for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. As a result, the BJP won a bonanza – getting a record 26 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in the state which included an independent backed by the BJP.
This time around, Modi is not a factor in the bye-elections and the equations have turned against the BJP following widespread revolt within its own ranks. According to some, in general one is used to some sections within the Congress attempting to sabotage the chances of their own candidates. For the first time, they say the BJP is facing a similar situation – of possible sabotage by a section of rank and file.
But where the BJP comes up trumps is on the issue of money. The Congress and the JD(S) realise to their dismay that their kitties are no match for the spending power of the BJP, and this, they fear, could neutralise the negative effects of any revolt in the party. This is only a fear and no one can be sure how important this factor is until results come.
The Congress and JD(S) have already started protesting aloud over media reports of how the BJP has benefited from the largesse of opaque and secretive electoral funds.
Meanwhile, one JD(S) candidate, a pontiff Shivalinga Shivacharya from Hirekerur on Thursday withdrew his candidature under pressure from the BJP. The JD(S) had held hopes on this candidate.
Shivacharya, after announcing his candidature, reportedly went into hiding to avoid getting pressured. But, eventually, it appears that the BJP was successful and he has opted out of the contest. This indicates that the BJP will go to any length to swing the advantage in its favour.
There could be a twist in the tale though. Even if the revolt works against the BJP and it is unable to cross the majority mark, former chief minister H D Kumaraswamy on a couple of occasions has indicated the JD(S) may extend support to the BJP. Kumaraswamy and Yediyurappa are old partners in a coalition that ruled the state between 2006-2008 – so a possibility of a repeat cannot be ruled out.
But then, given the unpredictable quality of politics in Karnataka, no one can be sure about anything happening until that actually happens, like the totally unexpected tie-up between the Congress and the JD(S) in May 2018 to form a government – much to the BJP’s shock.
The political fluidity, intriguing inter-personal relationships among the leaders of the three major parties in the state and the ability of the voter to spring a surprise in Karnataka are ingredients that will eventually determine who crosses the line on December 9, when results are announced.