Ruling parties rarely lose bypolls in Karnataka. Yet the Congress in Karnataka can barely conceal its satisfaction over last weeks victory in elections to two Lok Sabha seats in a region dominated by the Janata Dal (Secular) party of former prime minister H D Deve Gowda.
Diffidence,from the general feeling that success in the Assembly polls in the state in May this year had more do with the mess created by the BJP and the JD(S) rather than it setting any new political agenda,has turned into confidence for the party. The Congress is now projecting victory in 20 of the 28 seats in Karnataka in the Lok Sabha polls next year.
The bypolls were the first major elections in the state since the Congress came to power and were seen as a test of the acceptance of the populist policies of CM Siddaramaiah. They were viewed as a test of the acceptance of his leadership in a region where the majority community,the Vokkaligas,are considered antagonistic towards him on account of his split from Gowda in 2007 to join the Congress.
The combination of a united effort by Congress leaders,a quirk of fate that favoured party candidate Ramya (her father died,resulting in sympathy for her),and a confusing alliance with the BJP by the JD(S) leadership has handed the Congress its victory.
The win has also given the party a rare opportunity to make inroads into the hearts of Vokkaligas the second largest community in Karnataka. Having hitched their wagon firmly with Gowda and the JD(S) until now,the Vokkaliga votes are now there for the taking. The Congresss Vokkaliga base had worn thin in recent times in the absence of strong Gowda leaders in the party. Through acts of political gamesmanship built on the back of the Vokkaliga support the JD(S) has managed to wiggle itself into positions of power in Karnataka in the past decade. From a regional party which had 16 MPs in the Lok Sabha two decades ago,when Gowda became PM,it is now at political crossroads with only Deve Gowda in Parliament,and bleak prospects for the general elections next year.
Johnson is a senior assistant editor based in Bangalore firstname.lastname@example.org