While Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa is telling voters that the four-month-old BJP government in Karnataka will sweep all 15 seats in the Assembly by-elections, scheduled for Thursday, there are indications on the ground that the party may not have it that easy in retaining its majority.
Besides some amount of public anger against some of the 13 new entrants fielded by the party — former Congress and JD(S) MLAs who defected to topple a Congress-JD(S) coalition and bring BJP to power – the ruling party is battling resistance in some constituencies, even though the Congress, main opposition party in the state, has not asserted itself in a big way.
Yediyurappa and the BJP have promised huge funds for development in each of the 15 constituencies. All 13 rebel MLAs contesting as BJP candidates have been promised ministry positions.
The math for the ruling party
With 105 seats in the truncated 207-member Assembly, the BJP is aiming to win at least eight of 15 seats to take the party to a clear majority when the legislature is restored to its full strength of 224, where 113 is the simple majority. The party’s worst-case scenario is winning six seats, to get a temporary majority in the 222-member House — with the support of one Independent — until by-elections are held for two pending vacancies.
The BJP has also told voters that if the Yediyurappa government continues it will be the first time in 25 years that the same party will be in power in the state and at the Centre, resulting in big development benefits for Karnataka.
“The Congress and JD(S) have already given up hopes of winning the bypolls. They did not come together and field a candidate for Rajya Sabha elections to fight the BJP candidate. This means they know the outcome of the bypolls. The BJP will win all 15 seats,’’ Yediyurappa said at an election in Athani constituency on the penultimate campaign day.
Internal surveys of BJP have predicted a victory in 10 seats, and the party could struggle in at least two more seats, sources in BJP said.
The five seats where BJP analysis shows the party not doing well are K R Pet, Hunsur, Rannebennur, Hoskote and Kagwad.
Three of these seats — K R Pet, Hunsur and Hoskote – are in the Vokkaliga belt of south Karnataka; the community has traditionally backed JD(S).
A BJP leader said, “There is a sense of anger in the Vokkaliga community over the toppling of a government headed by a Vokkaliga (H D Kumaraswamy). This election is likely to see a reprisal by the Vokkaligas against rebel MLAs in seats where they are in a majority. This effect will be seen in three to four seats.”
In Rannebennur seat in central Karnataka, BJP’s non-rebel candidate, it appears, has not been accepted by the people and is up for a stiff fight from Congress veteran K B Koliwad.
In Kagwad seat in north Karnataka, where the Lingayat community of Yediyurappa is a dominant force, the BJP may have a tough time given public animosity towards Shrimanth Patil, the former Congress MLA now fielded by BJP. Patil is accused of indifference when floods hit Belagavi district soon after the BJP came to power, and of failing to pay the dues of sugarcane farmers.
Among other seats where BJP may face strong resistance are Yeshwanthapura and Chika-ballapur — both in the Vokkaliga belt in the south — and Hospet or Vijayanagara, where a BJP rebel refused to withdraw his nomination despite party’s warning.
The BJP is expected to sail through in three seats in north Karnataka — Athani, Hirekerur, Gokak — dominated by Yediyu-rappa’s Lingayat community.
The BJP is also tipped to do well in the Bengaluru seats of Shivajinagar, Mahalakshmi Layout and K R Puram, as well as the coastal belt seat of Yellapura, on account of the strength of its candidates and the lack of strong contenders from the Congress and JDS.