The almost clean sweep of the newly forged Congress-Janata Dal Secular combine in the Karnataka by-elections by 4-1 margin must have come at the worst Diwali gift by the people of the state to the BJP and national democratic Front that is ruling the Centre. It has once again revived fears of local and state-level alliances upsetting the Narendra Modi applecart in the general election that is approaching.
The Congress-JDS alliance snatched the crucial Bellary Lok Sabha constituency from the BJP and retained two other parliamentary seats and another Assembly seat. The BJP could only hold on to one Lok Sabha seat. The ruling party leaders in the capital were coy about commenting of the verdict results, saying the Karnataka unit leaders would be the appropriate to react. However they acknowledged privately that the by-elections results were actually a ‘wake-up call’.
They said that the ‘Karnataka results show that we have to work harder in states where strong regional parties like the JDS are present. It is a timely wake-up call and we will analyse the results and take corrective measures.’
Such shocks were nothing new to the NDA. Exactly one year earlier in the Yogi Adityanath –ruled Uttar Pradesh lost the high-profile Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats in the by-elections. At that time the party chief and election manager Amit Shah had told party leaders and cadres that these were freak results and matters would change dramatically in 2019 when Narendra Modi hits the charismatic campaign trail and sway the crowds. Another BJP leader, on condition of anonymity said that ‘Shah’s calculations about a presidential-type election in the name of Modi may not hold in states where regional parties have a strong base.’.
The Bellary results show ‘that if the SP and the BSP sew up an alliance in Uttar Pradesh, we will suffer huge losses despite the presence of Modi.’ Apart from Uttar Pradesh, that accounts for 80 Lok Sabha seats the sewn together of the Congress and the Sharad Pawar-led NCP in Maharashtra could deal a blow to ‘Amit Shah’s overconfidence’, another leader said.
Internally, BJP managers feel that the party election managers has already started calculating the losses the party might suffer in three key states- Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka - that account for 156 seats. The BJP and its allies had won 73 of the 80 seats in UP, 41 in 23 and the Shiv Sena 18 of the 48 in Maharashtra and 17 of the 28 seats in Karnataka.
Some party leaders said state-level alliances might not remain limited to these states and could extend to Bihar (40 seats) and Jharkhand (14) where the BJP had performed well in 2014. Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP has already started driving a hard bargain with the BJP and may switch sides to the RJD-Congress alliance. In Jharkhand, the Congress, JMM and RJD closing their ranks could pose a serious challenge.
The BJP is apprehensive of these ‘credible losses’ in the states it had swept to power in 2014. However, according to party leaders, Shah is sure of springing surprise gains in the eastern and the north-eastern states and also the south, that are virgin territories for the party, to make up for the possible losses.
According to some party leaders Shah has told them that surveys had shown the BJP could pick a large number of seats from Bengal and Odisha.
One leader said that ‘while our vote share is likely to increase considerably in Bengal that may not translate into seats if the Trinamul Congress and the Congress join hands. That also appears very likely. In Odisha we may gain substantially only if there is a tactical understanding with the BJD.’
After the Karnataka, and especially Bellary, results, BJP leaders say the hope of gaining in the south stood dashed. The party was hoping to bounce back in Karnataka despite the failure to form the government in that state. Party managers in Delhi were calculating on the confident of the voters rejecting the ‘opportunist’ Congress-JDS alliance.
Had the by-election results gone the way the BJP had wished, it would have revived the push to bring down the H.D. Kumaraswamy government. In the other southern states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Kerala, the BJP is banking on post-poll alliances if they fall short of majority in 2019.