Yet another trying period in Karnataka politics began on Saturday, 21 September, with the Election Commission announcing bypolls for 15 seats across the state on 24 and 27 October.
The constituencies going to polls are of the very ‘rebel’ Congress and JD(S) MLAs whose resignations hastened the fall of the coalition government this July. The MLAs had then moved the Supreme Court, challenging their disqualification by former speaker Ramesh Kumar.
They claimed his decision to ban them from getting another term in the Assembly till 2023 was ‘arbitrary’ and illegal. The apex court is yet to uphold or dismiss their disqualifications, with the bench deferring hearing the batch of petitions as recently as 16 September.
The rebels’ actions have had serious consequences for not just themselves, but the Congress-JD(S) alliance as well.
In a statement to the press, JD(S) supremo HD Deve Gowda said that there would be no coalition with the Congress going forward, as together they had lost a number of votes to the BJP. “Our party's stand is that no matter if we win or lose we have had enough of coalition,” he said.
It is not just the rebel MLAs’ whose fate is at stake, but possibly also the fate of the recently-formed BJP government, which is dealing with its own internal power struggles – with the politicking resulting in delays to its ability to effectively take charge of the state.
The BJP must win at least nine seats in the bypolls to consolidate and continue in power. It has 105 MLAs as of now in the Assembly while Congress and JD(S) together only boast a strength of 99 members. With the additional pressure of having to file nominations for the seats by 30 September, an open battle for power can be expected to unfold over the next nine days.
Bypolls have been announced for Gokak, Athani, Ranibennur, Kagwad, Hirekerur, Yellapur, Yeshwanthpur, Vijayanagara, Shivajinagar, Hosakote, Hunsur, Krishnarajpet, Mahalakshmi Layout, KR Pura and Chikkaballapur.
However, no polls have been announced for the Rajarajeshwari Nagar and Maski constituencies that had been held by former Congress MLAs Munirathna and Pratapgouda Patil till now.
Both Parties Lost Votes to the BJP: Deve Gowda
Former prime minister HD Deve Gowda explained his unhappiness with the coalition in some detail to the media:
“Already former chief minister HD Kumaraswamy said that we will contest separately, but he has also said we will discuss it. He has some pain because of his experience, this is why he said. I know how much pain he experienced.
I will call a meeting of leaders on Sunday, it won’t be decided by just Kumaraswamy and me. I have been collecting the views of leaders in my party. Everybody has said we shouldn’t go for an alliance.
Some leaders told me that by going together as an alliance both parties lost votes to the BJP.
We will announce our stand on Sunday, on how many constituencies we will contest. Our party’s stand is that no matter if we win or lose we have had enough of coalition.”
Challenges for the BJP
In order to hold power, the BJP will have to ensure that at least ten of the rebel MLAs win the elections on their party’s ticket. However, this won’t prove easy.
If the BJP gives these rebel MLAs tickets, they might irk the erstwhile BJP candidates while also running the risk of the MLAs working against the party. Further, the Congress and the JD(S) is expected to try and defeat the rebel MLAs, with their rebellion not looking favourable to voters.
This decision could decide the fate of the BJP government in the state, as it could mean they will not be able to get the six necessary seats to cross the majority mark. The legislative assembly will have a strength of 222 after the bypolls. With independent MLA Nagesh’s support, they have a strength of 106 seats.
It is only with 112, they will be able to continue in power without being in danger of losing their majority and seeing their government toppled.
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