The results of crucial by-elections to the 15 assembly constituencies in Karnataka to be announced on Monday (December 9) will decide the fate of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) hold in South India. Karnataka is the only state where the BJP is in power in South India.
The counting of votes polled on December 5, which witnessed a turnout of 67.91%, will begin at 8am on Monday. The bypolls were necessitated after 17 rebel Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) party legislators resigned and triggered the collapse of the coalition government led by HD Kumaraswamy in July.
Then then Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar disqualified the members and later the Supreme Court upheld his decision, but allowed them to contest bypolls.
Bypolls were held in KR Puram, Yeshwanthpur, Mahalakshmi Layout, Shivajinagar, Hoskote and Chikballapur (Bangalore and surrounding areas), Athani, Kagwad, Gokak, Yellapur, Hirekerur, Ranibennur, Vijayanagar (North Karnataka) and in KR Pet and Hunsur (old-Mysore region).
BJP gave ticket to 13 disqualified MLAs who joined the party after the SC verdict. They were in the fray from the respective constituencies from where they had won in 2018 on Congress and JD(S) tickets. While the BJP and Congress contested in all the 15 seats, the JD(S), which broke alliance with the latter, contested in 12 seats. Both the BJP and Congress leaders exuded confidence in willing the bypolls.
Exits polls by political research organisation C-voters and regional channels like Public TV and BTV predicted the saffron party to win 9-12 of the 15 seats it contested. “We will win with a lead of 25,000-30,000 votes in most of the constituencies. We will win all of them as there is a desire for stable government on ground,” Chief Minister Yediyurappa told reporters.
How much seats will BJP need to win to stay in power?
The BJP needs to win at least seven of the 15 seats to prove a simple majority. Currently, out of the total strength of 225 (including one nominated member) in the Assembly, BJP has 105 MLAs and enjoys the support of one independent MLA.
The Congress and JD(S) have 67 and 34 seats respectively. With two seats – Maski and Rajarajeswari Nagar – would still be vacant as bypolls were withheld owing to election malpractices and separate cases pending before the High Court, the total strength in the assembly after the bypolls would be 223.
What if the BJP falls short of majority?
If BJP falls short of majority, there would a hung assembly again. The JD(S) will play the role of the kingmaker yet again. JD(S) party leaders indicated swinging both sides in case of a hung Assembly. Former Chief Minister Kumaraswamy and his father HD Devegowda had indicated in the past that they are not ready for another round of election and hinted at supporting the BJP if need arises.
Meanwhile, Congress party leader Siddaramaiah said they would decide on aligning with the JD(S) after the poll results. But he indicated it was up to Sonia Gandhi to decide and they would not mind a mid-term polls if such a situation arise.
What if BJP retains power either by winning itself or taking support from JD(S)?
Throughout its campaign, while the JD(S) and Congress played the betrayal card on MLAs defecting to BJP and sought votes accordingly, the BJP reached out to voters claiming to give a stable government. While the failure of the state and Centre to on the rescue and rehabilitation effort in the flood affected areas dented the party’s image, they are still hopeful of staying in power.
For Yediyurappa, who formed his cabinet almost a month after talking oath as the chief minister, this results would be crucial as he would have to walk on tight rope if the party wins. Since the BJP promised cabinet berths to rebel MLA, it would mean the party will have to battle the infighting that could stem at a later stage after losing key porfolios.
Besides, as the ministerial berths in the current cabinet are allocated based on caste lines, the party will have to fight hard to balance the caste equation during the cabinet reshuffle. Siddaramaiah who gave zero on a scale of 10 on the performance of Yediyurappa government which completed 100 days in office last month, said, “The BJP came to power through backdoor by wooing rebels. On moral grounds it has to resign. Exit polls have not always been right so let us wait till the results are announced.”