Of the 27 by-polls held in Karnataka over the last two decades, few have been as significant as the recent voting in 15 constituencies, the results for which will be announced on Monday, analysts and party leaders said.
This is not just because it would determine the fate of the B.S.Yediyurappa-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government but also because it will see if defections as a political strategy really pay off. It also needs to be seen if the trend is replicated in other states or whether the electorate will hold its representatives accountable.
Thursday saw high voter turnout for the by-polls, an indication perhaps that voters acted upon on emotions, analysts said.
Hosakote recorded 90.90% voter turnout, while Chikkaballapura recorded 86.84%, Hunsur saw an 80.59% turnout and Krishnarajapete was at 80.52%, according to data of state election authorities.
Though the ruling party has won around 50% of the by-polls in the last two decades, it does generally enjoy the advantage heading into the polls, according to analysts.
“In the current by-polls it has to be seen if the anger that exists against the disqualified legislators is greater than the advantage of being in government,” said Narendar Pani, political analyst, and faculty at Azim Premji University.
But defections and other forms of inorganic political growth is not sustainable as past experiences in Karnataka and other parts of the country show.
Though engineering defections paid off in the short term for Yediyurappa in 2008, it triggered clashes between loyalists and new entrants, sending the party and its leaders into a downward spiral leading to the eventual collapse of BJP’s first government in southern part of India and took over a decade to recover.
Bypolls, incidentally, scripted the rise of Siddaramaiah when he took on his mentor-turned-rival H.D.Deve Gowda and won by a margin of 257 votes in December 2006.
Bypolls have helped leaders like Gowda and Mallikarjun Kharge, among others, sneak in their family members into electoral politics.
Sandeep Shastri, political analyst, and pro-vice-chancellor at Jain University says the victory of even six or seven disqualified legislators (the minimum number required to keep the government afloat) would not be a very positive sign of the working of democracy.
He says that if people who were elected on a party symbol later change for individual gains, it would be a “mockery of representative process”.
The by-polls were the first stumbling block for Yediyurappa as he would then have to accommodate the winners into the cabinet and the unsuccessful candidates possibly through the upper house. Analysts say that the perception that Yediyurappa has taken on the party and the high command led by Union Minister Amit Shah to accommodate the rebels could also lead to further isolation of the 76-year old, presumably on the last stretch of his last political career spanning four decades.
Similar situations in the past have led to factionalism and dissent that could threaten the Yediyurappa government and leave it as vulnerable as Kumaraswamy found himself throughout the 14-month period of his rule. Monday may have all the answers.