THE KARNATAKA Assembly election results, announced on Tuesday, saw the Cong-NCP camp in the Bhandara-Gondia Lok Sabha constituency of Vidarbha going from feeling despondent to buoyant. Earlier in the day, when the BJP seemed to be on its way to get majority, Congress leaders had maintained that this would have a “demoralising effect” on party workers. But towards evening, as the Congress offered support to the JDS, with the polls appearing to throw up a hung verdict, the leaders came out saying that this will bolster the prospects of anti-BJP parties.
At least three senior Congress leaders had told The Indian Express earlier in the day that BJP’s surge in Karnataka wasn’t good news for the prospects of Cong-NCP alliance in the constituency. “Going purely by people’s issues, there is no reason why the BJP should win. But looking at today’s results, an air of despondency is sure to set in,” a former MP had said. The same view was echoed by another former MP and a senior leader from Bhandara district.
Later in the day, they said the end result in Karnataka would send a message that, if united, they could keep BJP at bay.
The Bhandara-Gondia bypoll has been necessitated following the resignation of former BJP MP Nana Patole last year. He had subsequently joined the Congress. Though there are over 20 candidates in fray, there is likely to be a direct fight between NCP’s Madhukar Kukde and BJP’s Hemant Patle.
A former MP from the region said, “It seems the BJP has mastered the art of winning elections, no matter how badly it’s governments perform. The CM will undoubtedly put the entire might of the party and its financial resources behind his candidate.”
“The Karnataka results are sure to create some perception in BJP’s favour. Such things are a given in electoral politics. Moreover, it is impossible to match BJP’s money power. Their workers have been provided five-star facilities like AC vehicles… so, who is going to sit in our non-AC vehicles,” a Congress leader said.
He, however, added: “The final outcome will certainly boost the morale of party workers.”
Targeting Fadnavis, Patole said: “There is great discontent among the people against the government. My reason behind quitting BJP was the pathetic condition of farmers due to the government’s policies. But the BJP is adept at electoral machinations to manipulate results. What was the need to bring EVMs from Surat?”
Kukde’s nomination, meanwhile, has been mired in controversy with NCP leader Praful Patel stating that he will not be nominated for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls from Bhandara-Gondia.
When contacted, Patel, however, said: “Congress and NCP are working together to ensure Kukde’s victory. As far as 2019 is concerned, I did say that me or my wife Varsha will contest. Actually, the over-riding sentiment this time was for Varsha to contest. But we decided to put up Kukde and will now unitedly ensure his victory. After all, I have been contesting from here for the past several years.”
But it is easier said than done. The political camaraderie between Congress MLA Gopaldas Agrawal of Gondia and the BJP is well known. In Gondia’s zilla parishad, BJP and Congress are allies. In the panchayat samiti too, CM’s intervention had prevented the local BJP from upstaging the Congress by enticing two of its members to the party’s camp.
But going purely by caste factor, Kukde, three-time MLA from Tumsar when he was in BJP, belongs to the most prominent Kunbi community, which has about 3 lakh voters.
Patle belongs to the second most powerful Powar community with about 2.5 lakh votes. Dalits have about 1.75 lakh votes, followed by tribals, Kohalis and fishermen. The Teli community also has 2.5 lakh voters.
While Patole is also a Kunbi, Kukde will have to garner votes from Telis, Powars, tribals, Kohalis and the fishermen. Though Congress has a good support base among the Telis in the constituency, Dalit votes would be hard to come by for Kukde with the Khairlanji Dalit massacre shadow still looming over the party.