Byelections to two seats of a 224-member Assembly cannot be seen as a pointer to people’s mandate in the 2023 elections. There is, however, no underplaying the fact that the Congress candidate humbled the might of the ruling BJP that deployed its full resources, led by Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai himself, in its bastion of Hangal. It should serve as a caution bell for the BJP ahead of the 2023 Assembly elections.
The byelections have thrown up a mixed bag, with the BJP wresting the Sindgi seat from the JD(S), but losing its own Hangal seat to the Congress.
The joy of winning Sindgi appears to be overshadowed by the defeat in Hangal for the BJP, particularly the Chief Minister, who spearheaded the party’s campaign in the same district where his Assembly seat of Shiggaon also lies.
These bypolls had drawn the attention of the entire State as they were the first political test for the new Chief Minister, who has been chosen by the BJP high command to lead the 2023 poll campaign. The party high command had declared Mr. Bommai to be the long-term leader for the party, which had caught many senior aspirants off guard.
Despite being known as politically shrewd, Mr. Bommai had to taste defeat in Hangal which was represented by the party’s veteran leader late C.M. Udasi for decades. A clean sweep in both the seats would have sent a strong message to the detractors of Mr. Bommai within the party as well as the BJP’s opponents.
However, the defeat in Hangal has now thrown up the old question of whether the new dispensation in the BJP, which suffers from an undercurrent of internal differences, will be able to take all the factions together, particularly the loyalists of the former Chief Minister and Lingayat strongman B.S. Yediyurappa whose son and BJP State vice-president B.Y. Vijayendra is trying to emerge strongly in the State political scene.
Also, some political observers believe that it is a message to the BJP organisation as well as the Government that hardcore Hindutva ideology may play a spoilsport by tilting the political balance in a constituency such as Hangal where minorities, Dalits, and OBCs form a sizeable number. The run-up to the byelections were marked by a series of episodes in different parts of the State that showed the new dispensation as more strongly Hindutva-oriented.
The Hangal defeat has also highlighted the fact that the Congress candidate endeared himself to people of the constituency through his work during the pandemic much against the allegations of slack response by Udasi.
These factors have shown that the BJP and Mr. Bommai have to set right various aspects both in terms of organisation as well as administration to make the party battle-ready ahead of the 2023 elections. The saffron party now faces a Congress emboldened by the Hangal victory, ready to sharpen its campaign against the BJP dispensation.