As counting of votes to the Karnataka Assembly elections ended on Tuesday, the BJP, falling eight seats short of a simple majority, found itself in familiar territory. The last and only time it formed the government in this state, in 2008, the BJP was just three seats short — and hauled itself over the halfway line with the support of Independents.
This time, the three big parties have dominated the elections more than in 2008 — there is only one Independent, and an MLA each from the regional Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janatha Party and the BSP, the latter having fought in alliance with the JD(S).
This has left the BJP with few options — and the Congress and JD(S) are wary of a rerun of “Operation Kamal”, when the BJP allegedly engineered defections of seven Opposition MLAs and won the subsequent bypolls.
Then, B S Yeddyurappa, riding a statewide sympathy wave after he was denied the post of CM, led the BJP to its highest ever count in the 224-member Assembly, winning 110 seats. Five independent MLAs — later made ministers — backed the BJP, which won a floor test days later.
Congress leaders alleged that the BJP had “engineered” the defection of three Congress and four JD(S) MLAs, who resigned as legislators forcing bypolls, and subsequently joined the BJP. The BJP won five of the bypolls, the JD(S) two, while the Congress drew a blank. The BJP strength in the House went up to 120. The BJP then won the Arebhavi, Hukkeri and Devdurga constituencies, earlier held by the JD(S), and wrested Karwar and Doddaballapur from the Congress.
Sources in the JD(S) said on Tuesday that they were wary of such an attempt again, but expressed confidence in their legislators. “The situation is not the same (as in 2008). Earlier, there could have never been an alliance with the Congress, but now they have supported our leader Kumaraswamy as CM,” a senior leader said. Also, he added, the BJP had no Independents to bank on this time.
The BJP’s showing on Tuesday mirrored its 2008 performance in the state’s regions. The BJP won big in Central, Coastal and Mumbai Karnataka, while ceding ground in Bengaluru, the Old Mysuru belt and Hyderabad Karnataka. It was perhaps the BJP’s reading of the 2008 verdict that helped script its victory on Tuesday.
In the Old Mysuru region, which accounts for close to 55 seats, the BJP won just nine, but sources said this formed part of the party’s core strategy. “We knew we would not do well in south Karnataka, so in several seats we tried to move our voters to the JD(S). If we wouldn’t win, then neither would the Congress,” said a BJP functionary in Mandya, the heart of Vokkaliga politics.
According to him, the BJP effectively forced the Congress to contest two elections in Karnataka — against the BJP in the north, and against the JD(S) in the south. “This way they were spread thinner, while the BJP and JD(S) concentrated on their core voters. The results reflect this. The JD(S) managed to hold on to their voters, while the BJP has emerged as the single largest party,” he said.
A look at some of Mandya’s results tell the tale. In Maddur, where the BJP polled 4,159, the JD(S) won with a margin of more than 50,000. And in Nagamangla, the JD(S) won with a margin of 47,667 and the BJP tally stood at 1,915.