Sunday, 30 August 2015

BBMP POLLS: ADVANTAGE BJP


A strong anti-incumbency wave not withstanding, the BJP managed to emerge as the largest party in the fifth largest civic body in the country as it finished with an impressive tally of 100, one more than the half way mark in spite of most poll pundits predicting an easy victory for the Congress. This was the saffron outfit's third consecutive win in local elections after it pipped the Congress in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan earlier this month. Under fire from all quarters over Lalit Gate and the Vyapam Scam, this hat trick of wins will be a big morale booster for the saffron camp and its supporters. For the Congress which romped to power in the state in 2013, all its hopes of wrestling control of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagar Pallike (BBMP) were dashed as it could muster just 76 seats. Meanwhile, for the JD-S which was expected to emerge as the King-Maker in case of a hung assembly, its future in the IT hub, like in the rest of the state seems to be bleak. Of course, with a complicated structure wherein the 13 MPs, 28 MLAs and 11 MLCs (total 250) too end up deciding the final outcome, it is still uncertain as to which party will form the next council in the city. Though the mandate seems to favor the BJP, it remains to be seen if backroom talks and negotiations between the former allies - the Congress and the JD-S can prevent the saffronists from retaining control of the BBMP.

Coming to the results, the BJP dropped eleven seats as compared to the last BBMP polls held in 2010 when it had finished with 111 seats. The Congress did well, increasing its tally from 65 to 76 but falling well short of the saffron outfit in the end. Fourteen nominees from the JD-S emerged victorious, a drop of one while 8 independents too made the cut. As far as the vote share is concerned, there was not much difference between the two parties. The BJP managed to get 40.45 % of the total votes polled, just a percent more than the INC; in a two sided contest like this, even a small difference in vote share can give a  big lead to one side in terms of numbers. From the perspective of the saffron camp, it was South Bengaluru that helped it in surging ahead in the Silicon city as it won a staggering 50 of the 76 wards from here. In the end, it was this massive lead that sealed the deal for the BJP. The Congress did relatively well in East Bengaluru, winning 20 of the 39 seats. In the other two ends of the city, the national parties were pretty much even-stevens.

The man of the moment for the BJP was R Ashoka, the MLA from Padmanabhanagar who had served as the deputy CM under the previous saffron regime in the state and was put in charge of the party's campaign in Bengaluru. In fact, the Vokkaliga leader was involved in every aspect of the polls and is believed to have hand picked the candidates. An experienced leader, he chalked out an effective strategy to retain control of the BBMP, employing the services of several incumbent MLAs and getting the city's three MPs and former CM B S Yeddyurappa to canvass for the party's nominees. The superlative performance of the BJP in wake of a rather mediocre report card of its previous council and the presence of a Congress government in the state is going to enhance the stature of the Padmanabhanagar MLA within the saffron ranks. Many are speculating that post the big win, he could be one of the front runners to lead the party in the state for the 2018 assembly elections. Unfortunately, for the party, it could still have to sit out in case of an unholy alliance between the Congress and JD-S with the support of independents, though such a scenario is highly unlikely. The big worry for the saffron outfit at the moment is that the tenure of 6 of its city MLCs ends in January 2016 and at present, it lacks the numbers in the state assembly to re-elect them.

For many, the victory for the BJP would have come in as a major surprise especially after the allegations of corruption and money laundering against several of its corporators. However, it is the Congress that needs to be blamed for cutting the strong anti-incumbency wave and handing over the BBMP to the saffron outfit on a platter. In spite of virtually governing the city for nearly an year, it failed to solve the problems that it had accused the BJP council of ignoring during its tenure including traffic woes and garbage disposition. Moreover, the Siddaramaiah government tried its best to postpone the civic polls for a long duration till the Supreme Court intervened and ordered it to hold the elections to the council within three months in a verdict delivered in May earlier this year. This was portrayed by the Opposition as Siddu's way of controlling the city while denying the citizens their right to chose their local governing body. While the delay tactics cut the saffron loses, the decision of the state government to trifurcate the BBMP seemed to have not pleased the electorate at all. In fact, the BJP had accused the INC of dividing Kempe Gowda's city for electoral gains.

While the results in the BBMP polls might make Ashoka one of the forerunners to lead BJP in the next state elections, for the incumbent CM Siddaramaiah, it was a clearly a major embarrassment. Firstly, he failed to keep up to his promise of improving the garbage situation in the city and the delay in holding the elections negatively impacted his image as one who did not care for the residents of the state's biggest city. Then, he committed the blunder of sidelining all other party leaders and heading the Congress' campaign in Bengaluru. Former CM S M Krishna, who continues to be very popular in the IT city for the various development schemes started during his tenure was kept away from campaigning. All party posters and banners carried the images of the CM along with nation leaders including Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Digvijay Singh. It was clear what the Varuna MLA was trying to portray; following the drubbing the Lok Sabha polls, he wanted to project a Congress win in the Silicon City as his own and answer his detractors within the INC. The move backfired, pretty badly. Though he refused to accept the results as a verdict against his government, there is no doubt that he will have a lot to answer in the coming days. Of course, all is not yet lost. An alliance with former partner the JD-S and the support of the 8 independents could push the coalition just over the line.

The Congress state unit in Karnataka is a divided house, split primarily into two factions - one backing Siddu and the others comprising of old timers who are opposed to the CM. Those belonging to the opposite camp have time and again accused the CM of being 'arrogant' and not taking others in account while taking key decisions. They regularly point to his affiliations with the JD-S prior to joining the Congress and hit out at him for playing 'partisan' politics. Following the defeat in the BBMP elections, this lobby is expected to get stronger. However, the big question is whether CM Siddamramaiah will be forced to resign in the near future. The answer, in my opinion is 'No'. With Karnataka being the only state where the INC is in power on its own, it will certainly not wish to send the wrong signal by revamping its leadership. Secondly, the Kuruba leader is the party's most popular face here. With S M Krishna in the eighties and Mallikarjuna Kharge acting as the party's leader in the Lower House of the Parliament, there is no other state leader of equal stature to be appointed to the post of the CM. And most importantly, from the Congress' perspective, Siddu continues to enjoy the unwavering backing of the party president Sonia Gandhi whose word within the INC is final.

Finally, for the party that boasts of an ex-PM and two ex-CMs within its ranks, the results could not have been worse. Speaking to the media post the announcement, former CM H D Kumaraswamy expressed deep unhappiness over the outcome in spite of all that his party was supposedly doing for the city. He even threatened to ignore the capital completely and concentrate on other areas of the state. Ironically though, the regional outfit run by the father-son duo, much like personal fiefdom is fast losing most of its political appeal amongst the masses. Reduced to 2 seats in the parliamentary polls in 2014 and having lost much of its Vokkaliga vote bank to its rivals, it is but eminent that the Gowdas need to introspect and see why they are not able to win the trust of the voters. However, there is still a ray of hope for them. The BJP's victory is in no way decisive and the JD-S could hold the key to the formation of the next council in the city.

As I end this post, let us see what the results of the BBMP polls are telling us especially in the context of the Karnataka state polls 2018. Firstly, the BJP is on the rise. Two back to back victories, first in the Lok Sabha polls and the superb tally in Bengaluru has shown that its prospects are on the rise. The coming home of former CM Yeddyurappa and Bellary strongman Sriramalu have further strengthened the saffron camp in the southern state where it already has a broad cadre base comprising mainly of RSS members. R Ashoka is the leader to look out for and you may hear his name often in state politics. For the Congress, its task is cut out. It needs to put its house in order at the earliest and Siddu has to lead the way for this. Moreover, the party just cannot afford to take things lightly in the capital, which was once its stronghold. For the JD-S which is on the verge of merging into the Janata Parivaar in the coming months, its leadership has to retrospect on its ideology, if anything is left of it and work towards strengthening its support base, failing which it could sink into the oblivion.