The only difference that the results of the by-elections from Karnataka would make, if seen dispassionately, is that the Congress party’s strength goes up by one and the BJP’s is down by one in the Lok Sabha.
And this will not affect the Narendra Modi government any way. Insofar as the Karnataka assembly is concerned, the two seats that the party won – Ramanagara and Jamkhadi – were won by the ruling coalition in May 2018 and these have been retained. So, there is nothing to sing and dance about it, some would say.
Well. Politics and the discourse in politics is not merely about the immediate relevance of an event and more so of a by-election held when the general elections are due in just a few days more than six months.
A few days more than six months is relevant because by-elections are not held and the constituencies remain un-represented if only six months are left before the general elections. So, Shivamoga, Mandya and Bellari went for elections last week and the votes counted today ending up conveying a message.
I do not intend saying here that the political parties would have needed this to see what was coming. Politicians have the skill to read the writing on the wall best. The BJP candidate from Ramanagara would not have walked out of the contest a few days before the votes were cast otherwise.
But then, some do read the writing wrong. BSYedyurappa did read it wrong in May 2018 when he quit the Shivamoga Lok Sabha seat for being chief minister without a cabinet for a few days; his son may see it as a blessing in disguise today when he retained what was his father’s constituency since May 2014 and his own for five years before that! B.Sriramulu, however, lost his Lok Sabha seat in exchange for being a MLA and could not ensure his sister’s election from what was considered his fief!
Message In The Ballot Box
Shorn of these, there indeed is a significant message from the by-election results. It is about the ease with which the Congress and the Janata Dal (S), whose leaders had fought against one another before May 2018 and worked to defeat each other’s candidates in Ramanagara and Jamkhadi as well as in the assembly segments in Mandya, Bellari and Shivamoga less than six months ago ended up working in tandem against the BJP now.
It is also about the people in these constituencies, incidentally spread across Karnataka (and barring the Mangalore belt alone) did not find the post-poll coalition that the Congress and the JD (S) sewed up as against the mandate they gave in May 2018.
Those who held coalitions as inherently un-stable and hence went about speaking for BS Yedyurappa as chief minister of Karnataka have now to agree that the people saw things differently.
And those who went out with a torch-light to search for hitches in the coalition, even empathising with Sidharamaiah, the former Congress chief minister, that he was sacrificed for the cause of a coalition will have to learn to see politics more as a dynamic space where the impossible is rendered possible.
The Battle Of Perception
The results of the by-elections from Karnataka could not have come at a worse time than now for the BJP. The party is facing an up-hill task in Rajasthan and a contest not so easy in Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh.
It is also facing a Congress party, whose leader Rahul Gandhi, is not wanting to let his advantage go in what present day journalism calls optics and some of us, belonging to another era, used to call the battle of perception.
Let me look at the by-election results of today another way. In May 1963, the Congress lost in by-elections from Farukhabad, Amroha and Rajkot (to Ram Manohar Lohia, J.B.Kripalani and Minoo Masani) and the party could not recover from then; the Congress faced its first major reverse in 1967.
Similarly, Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress lost the Allahabad by-elections in 1987 and its downslide began from there. It is true that the winners from Karnataka are not even a pale shadow of the doyens mentioned above. But short of that, there is a message and it is that the people of India are not averse to coalitions and are no longer fascinated by a single party.
An advice or a prescription that the National Security Adviser issued some time ago stressing the need for a strong leader seems far too removed from the way the people have been thinking; this seems the truth at least from Karnataka.
V Krishna Ananth is Professor of History, SLABS, SRM University AP, Amaravati.
First Published: IST