There were a few things potentially portentious about the recently concluded Karnataka byelections.
Just before the 10-day-long, cut-throat campaign for the five contested seats – three Lok Sabha constituencies and two assembly segments – in Karnataka drew to a close at the start of this month, with the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and ruling Congress- Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) combine hurling an unprecedented barrage of accusations at each other over myriad issues, BJP candidate L. Chandrashekar for the Ramanagara assembly seat resigned.
Barely three weeks after joining the saffron party, he returned to Congress.
Supposed to contest against Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy's wife Anitha Kumaraswamy of the JD-S, Chandrashekar ascribed his shockingly sudden decision to betrayal by the BJP leadership in the state.
"BJP leaders had promised their support to me when I decided to contest on the party ticket from Ramanagara. However, none of them even came forward to campaign for me,” the 49-year-old turncoat said.
Left red-faced by Chandrashekar’s defection, the state leaders of BJP leaders put all the blame on their arch-rivals. "The Congress has lured Chandrashekar back into the party fold through money power to ensure Anitha's victory, as they were afraid of her losing to our candidate at the hustings," a BJP official stated.
Most political analysts of that state did not buy that claim. The public also was far from convinced.
The Congress’s version of the story sounded more straightforward and plausible, and thus better accepted by the public.
"As our alliance partners decided to have a joint candidate in all the five by-polls to avoid vote split between us, Chandrashekar joined the BJP to contest on its ticket. With the BJP letting him down, he had no option but return and support Anitha," a Congress official revealed.
At least as far as Karnataka was concerned, everything that Congress and the JDS had done over the past six months was practical and purposeful. When the May assembly elections threw up a hung verdict, the Congress and JD-S – hitherto bitter rivals – joined hands and formed a coalition government, the prime goal being to keep the BJP out of power in the state.
That approach seemed to have paid off once again – when the byelection results came out on November 6. That day, when around two-third of the 54.5-lakh electorate exercised their voting rights, saw the JD-S-Congress coalition rout the saffron party 4-1, winning two Lok Sabha and two Assembly constituencies, while conceding only the Shimoga parliamentary seat.
Touted as a semi-final ahead of next year's general elections, the Karnataka results were a big blow to the BJP and a morale-booster for the ruling coalition.
Hailing the victory, Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy called for opposition parties to unite under the leadership of Congress President Rahul Gandhi to take on the BJP in the next year's Lok Sabha elections, as people were looking for an alternative.
While the JD-S and the Congress won the Mandya and Bellary (ST) Lok Sabha seats, they also bagged the Ramanagaram and Jamkhandi Assembly seats.
In Bellary, which had been a BJP bastion for the past 14 years, Congress candidate V.S. Ugrappa defeated BJP's J. Shantha by a whopping margin of 2,43,161 votes.
Ugrappa polled 6,28,365 votes against 3,85,204 secured by Shantha, sister of BJP leader B. Sriramulu, a close associate of the controversial mining Reddy brothers.
The by-election was held in the Lok Sabha constituency after Sriramulu resigned following his election to the state Assembly from Molakalmuru (reserved) seat in the adjacent Chitradurga district in May.
Bellary in the southern state's northwest region had shot into national fame when then Congress president Sonia Gandhi won in the 1999 mid-term Lok Sabha elections, defeating BJP's Sushma Swaraj. Sonia, however, resigned from Bellary within weeks to retain the Rai Bareily Lok Sabha seat in Uttar Pradesh as she had contested from both the constituencies.
The BJP had pulled all stops during the campaigning to ensure a victory for Shantha, who represented the constituency from 2009-14.
In the JD-S stronghold of Mandya Lok Sabha constituency, its candidate L. Shivarame Gowda won by a huge margin of 3,24,943 votes over BJP's Siddaramaiah. Gowda polled 5,69,347 votes against 2,44,404 by the latter.
The vacancy was caused by JD-S C. Puttaraju, who resigned on being elected to the assembly from Melukote in Mandya district in the May 12 state polls.
The BJP, however, managed to win the Shimoga Lok Sabha seat where its former Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa's son B.Y. Raghavendra defeated JD-S nominee Madhu Bangarappa, son of former chief minister late S. Bangarappa, by 52,148 votes majority. Raghavendra polled 5,43,306 votes against 4,91,158 by Madhu.
Yeddyaruappa resigned from Shimoga on getting elected to the assembly from the Shikaripura segment in the same district in the Malnad region, causing the vacancy.
In the two assembly by-polls, the ruling alliance scored a resounding victory.
The prestigious Ramnagaram seat went to Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy's wife Anitha, who won on the JD-S ticket by a huge margin of 1,09,137 votes. The 55-year-old Anitha defeated BJP's Chandrashekar, whose nomination had remained since the final date of withdrawal was October 20.
In the Jamkhandi assembly constituency, Congress candidate Anand Siddu Nyamagouda, son of former Union Minister Siddu Nyamagouda, defeated BJP's Shrikant Kulkarni by 39,480 votes.
The seat had fallen vacant following the death of Nyamagouda senior in a road accident on May 28 in the state's northwest Bagalkote district.
With the November 6 victory, the strength of the ruling coalition in the 224-member legislative assembly went up to 120.
Workers and supporters of the ruling alliance who contested the by-elections together, broke into celebrations across the party's offices in Ramanagaram and Jamkhandi as well as in Bengaluru.
A senior state Congress leader asserted that the victory was a rejection of the BJP's negative politics.
"The people have rejected the negative politics of the BJP in the state and the abject failure of the Modi government in addressing the people's issues. Congrats to all the winners," tweeted the Congress state unit president Dinesh Gundu Rao.
"The by-poll results are a victory of the coalition government in the state,” said Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy.
"People have expressed their support and confidence in the coalition government. These results are indications of the 2019 general election," Kumaraswamy told reporters.
Limiting the BJP to one seat was possible because the ruling alliance leaders have fought unitedy in the by-polls, said JD-S supremo and former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda.
"The cadres of both parties -- JD-S and Congress -- have worked hard together. The parties' leaders have also been united," Gowda told reporters in Bengaluru.
The by-poll results show that the state's electorate had "rejected" BJP, claimed former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah.
"When Narendra Modi does not answer questions of the people, they [people] will answer during the elections. When BJP Karnataka forgets the mandate given by the people and get consumed by arrogance, the people will make them bite the dust. This time it was Bellary mining dust #KarnatakaRejectsBJP," Siddaramaiah tweeted.
The by-poll results were an effort to reconstruct the crumbling blocks of democracy in the country, he added.
A victorious Anitha said: "This victory belongs to my husband [Kumaraswamy] and my father-in-law [Deve Gowda] and thousands of party workers who supported me.
While rejoicing his son's win, Yeddyurappa alleged that the JD-S and Congress alliance used money power to "lure" voters and win the by-elections in other constituencies.
WOEING TO WIN
"The parties [JD-S and Congress] have used their money power for the by-elections. The BJP will, however, introspect why we have lost in the remaining seats," Yeddyurappa told the media in Bengaluru.
Many political analysts aver that it is indeed high time for the saffron party to introspect hard about its electoral approach, what with Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh elections around the corner.
Many senior BJP leaders have themselves been repeatedly asserting that it is the full-blown MP assembly polls, not Karnataka bypolls, that should be seen as the bellwether of the 2019 elections. The MP results, some electoral experts reckon, will have an impact on the political situation in other electorally important states such as Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.
Increasingly aware of what’s at stake in 230-seat MP, voting for which will take place on November 28, with results to be declared on December 8, the BJP seems to be planning to leave no stone unturned to ensure a victory.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to campaign for his party’s candidates in the poll-bound state by holding 10 public meetings over five days. State BJP President Rakesh Singh has announced that between November 16 and November 25, Modi will tour the state, addressing people in several districts.
The Prime Minister will address public meetings in Gwalior and Shahdol on November 16, and in Chhindwara and Indore on November 18, Singh said. Modi will seek votes for the BJP candidates in Jhabua and Rewa on November 20, while he will address public meetings in Mandsaur and Chhatarpur on November 23. On November 25, he is scheduled to address public meetings in Vidisha and Jabalpur.
The Congress, too, has stepped up its efforts and majorly tweaked its game to win over the state.
Playing soft Hindutva, the Congress has promised to build gaushalas in every gram panchayat, establish a new department for spirituality, opening of new Sanskrit schools besides loan waiver for farmers and a Made-in-MP programme to boost industries.
The promises were contained in a 86-page manifesto titled "Vachan Patra" released by senior Congress leaders including state Congress President Kamal Nath, campaign committee chief Jyotiraditya Scindia, former Chief Minister Digvijay Singh, and which focuses largely on farmers, youth, women, tribals and industries.
For farmers, the party has promised to waive loans upto Rs 2 lakh taken from nationalised and cooperative banks and reduce their electricity bill by 50 per cent, reduce diesel, petrol and cooking gas prices, gaushalas in every gram panchayat, Rs 51,000 for the marriage of daughters of farmers among others if it comes to power.
"The party will take back all the cases filed against farmers during agitations and protests. A judicial inquiry will be conducted for killing of farmers in Mandsaur," the manifesto read.
Besides this, provision of Rs 2.50 lakh for the construction of houses of landless people each on a plot of 450 sq feet has also been mentioned in the manifesto.
Wooing the youth, the party has promised to constitute a youth commission and to bring a new youth policy. "An unemployed member of every family will be given Rs 10,000," said Kamal Nath while releasing the manifesto.
Addressing the media, Scindia said for the first time any party has released a "vachan patra" and not a manifesto.
"This is a vachan patra and not a ghoshna patra, because we all have been hearing ghoshnas for the last 15 years," he said in an apparent dig at Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
To promote industries and business, the opposition party promised that it will bring a new industrial policy which will benefit locals in terms of employment and will encourage multi-level industrial parks in every big city in the state.
Besides establishing a MP global technology incubator, transport hubs will be created in Indore, Gwalior and Jabalpur, the party said adding that it will encourage Made in MP brand of products.
Taking a soft-Hindutva approach ahead, the party promised to constitute Maa Narmada Nyay legislation and new spirituality department besides promising to open Sanskrit schools to promote the language.
The party also promised to constitute a legislative council in the state if it comes to power.
While critics of Congress have slammed its soft Hindutva approach as being a desperate attempt to strengthen its Hindu vote bank, those of BJP have similarly noted how the saffron party has resorted to doing exactly what it had traditionally slammed the Congress and other regional parties for over decades.
Many have noted that dynasty politics has dominated its selection of candidates for the MP Assembly elections.
The BJP, which has fielded candidates for all the 230 Assembly constituencies, has shown its confidence in the sons or relatives of senior party leaders as part of its strategy to overcome 15 years of anti-incumbency.
As per an analysis of the list of candidates issued in four instalments, the party has given tickets to over 40 such candidates who are either sons, daughters, wives and relatives of former MPs, MLAs or senior party functionaries.
The list includes the names of the kin of big guns such as BJP General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya and former Chief Minister Babulal Gaur.
Vijayvargiya's son Akash Vijayvargiya has been fielded from Indore-3 Assembly constituency. Vijayvargiya, who has been representing Mhow in the state Assembly, is a close confidant of BJP chief Amit Shah and has held several positions in the state government and party.
Gaur, who was reluctant to contest again in this Assembly polls, has been placated by the party by giving a ticket to his daughter-in-law Krishna Gaur. She is a former mayor of Bhopal. Gaur has been representing Govindpura Assembly constituency since 1980 and has won the seat for a record eight times consecutively.
Besides these big guns, the party has obliged many senior leaders by giving tickets to their kin.
Forest Minister Gauri Shankar Shejwar's son Mudit has been fielded from Sanchi Assembly Constituency. Shejwar is among the tallest leaders of the BJP. He has been elected MLA for seven times from the Sanchi Assembly seat in Raisen district.
Sudhir Yadav, son of Sagar MP Laxmi Narayan Yadav, has been fielded from Surkhi while the sitting MLA from Chandla R. D. Prajapati has been replaced by his son Rajesh Prajapati. Harsh Singh, a minister in the state government has been denied a ticket and has been replaced by his son Vikram Singh from Rampur Baghelan.
Senior BJP leader and former Speaker Ishwar Das Rohani's son, Ashok Rohani has been given the ticket from Jabalpur Cantt. Minister Vijay Shah's brother Sanjay Shah will be contesting from Timarni.
The party has fielded former MP Laxminarayan Pandey's son, Rajendra Pandey from Jawra. Former minister Laxmikant Sharma's brother Umakant Sharma is contesting from Sironj. The party has fielded former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's nephew Anoop Mishra from Bhitarwar. He is an MP from Morena.
The list is long as there are many other sons and relatives of senior party leaders who have got tickets to contest this year's Assembly polls. The names include Harbansh Rathore, son of former minister and sitting MLA Harnam Singh Rathore from Banda, Shivnarayan Singh, son of MP Gyan Singh, Mahendra Singh Chouhan, son of former MLA Kedar Singh Chouhan and Manju Dadu, daughter of former MLA Rajendra Dadu.
The party has also repeated many candidates who are the relatives of senior party leaders and are now established names in state politics.
They include minister Yashodhara Raje, daughter of Vijaya Raje Scindia, minister Vishwas Sarang, son of former MP Kailash Sarang. Likewise, Dipak Joshi is the son of former Chief Minister Kailash Joshi, Surendra Patwa is the son of another former CM Sunderlal Patwa.
Neena Verma, wife of former union minister Vikram Verma has again been fielded from Dhar Assembly constituency. Former Chief Minister Virendra Kumar Sakhlecha's son Om Prakash Sakhlecha will be contesting for a fourth consecutive term from Jawad.
Former union Minister Faggan Singh Kulaste's brother has been given the ticket to contest from Niwas. He will be seeking his fourth consecutive term. Former Speaker Brijmohan Mishra's daughter Archana Chitnis is a well-known face of the party in the state. She has been fielded from Burhanpur for the third consecutive term.
Some have pointed out that while the BJP attacks Congress President Rahul Gandhi and accuses him of practising dynasty politics, it itself has several dynasties flourishing in various states.
The names include Pankaja Munde and Preetam Munde, daughters of the late Gopinath Munde from Maharashtra. Poonam Mahajan, daughter of Pramod Mahajan, is a Lok Sabha MP from Mumbai North-Central.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje's son Dushyant Singh and Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh's son Abhishek Singh are Lok Sabha MPs.
Former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal's son, Anurag Thakur, is the Lok Sabha member from Hamirpur. Maneka Gandhi is a union minister while her son Varun Gandhi is an MP from Sultanpur in UP.
Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh's son, Rajveer Singh is an MP from Etah while former Delhi Chief Minister Late Sahib Singh Verma's son, Parvesh Verma is an MP from Delhi.
Former Karnataka Chief Minister B. S. Yeddyurappa's son Raghavendra is an MP from Shimoga in Karnataka. He recently won the by-poll to the parliamentary constituency.
If not the Karnataka bypolls, the MP elections can most certainly be deemed as the semi-finals of the big battle coming up next year. Complacency, glaring inconsistencies in policies and principles, and reckless missteps in the coming days can cost either party dearly over the coming months. For the Congress, the coming assembly polls will undoubtedly determine whether a united anti-BJP opposition at the national level will be possible under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi. The BJP, on the other hand will perhaps have more to lose next year considering it still has a strong position at the national level. It should not give the public reasons to do an L. Chandrashekar on it.