Letting bygones be bygones in these by-polls

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karnatakaBangalore, August 17; The adage that nobody is a permanent friend or foe in politics has been reiterated, in Karnataka this time, where political forces have realigned in the run-up to the Lok Sabha and Legislative Council by-elections to put up a unified fight against the ruling Congress.

Two Lok Sabha seats and three Legislative Council seats are at stake. The parliamentary by-polls on August 21 have put the political parties in a situation where they have to fight an intense battle for political supremacy ahead of the general elections, though there is little public enthusiasm as this Lok Sabha has only a short time left.

Taking all by surprise, the Bharatiya Janata Party withdrew its candidates from both seats (Bangalore Rural and Mandya) in support of the Janata Dal (S) — its once-ally-turned-foe. The pact has remained informal despite the interest shown by JD (S) State president H.D. Kumaraswamy to scale it up, as his father and former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda is ideologically opposed to an alliance with the BJP.

In fact, there was uncertainty over the pact as the BJP insisted on a formal tie-up. However, finally, the party accepted an informal pact on the grounds that its main intention was to ensure that the anti-Congress votes are not split. It has delegated local leaders to campaign for the JD (S) in the Lok Sabha by-polls.

The JD (S) has reciprocated by not fielding candidates to the by-elections to the three Council seats on August 22. Not surprisingly, the Congress has described the entire arrangement as “unholy.”

Best way out

Clearly, the BJP hit on this strategy as the best way out of a tricky situation. After losing the Assembly elections in the State, it does not have a strong presence in either of the two Lok Sabha seats, and the results are bound to set a trend for the general elections next year.

The BJP’s prominent Vokkaliga leaders were uneasy about leading the battle in the community’s stronghold, as a bad show there would have queered the pitch for the party’s ambitious plans to recover from the Assembly debacle with a high-profile campaign in the State for the next Lok Sabha elections led by central campaign committee chairman Narendra Modi. The BJP hopes that in this way, there is better chance of a Congress debacle in the by-polls, which will help it build a tempo for campaign 2014.

Similarly, the JD (S) was keen to prevent any split in the anti-Congress votes particularly in the Bangalore Rural seat, which is witnessing a high-profile contest between Mr. Kumaraswamy’s wife Anitha Kumaraswamy and Congress leader D.K. Shivakumar’s brother D.K. Suresh. Although not a force to reckon with in this constituency, the BJP has a base in a couple of the Assembly segments of this constituency.

Long-term possibilities

The alliance has raised the possibility of the BJP forging a similar alliance with the JD (S) for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls too. However, sources in the BJP insist that the party is yet to think that far, and that the JD (S) would also be having different options by that time. “This pact is only for the ongoing by-elections in a bid to send a political message by preventing the ruling Congress from surging ahead,” a prominent BJP leader said.

The Karnataka Janata Paksha of former Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa has also entered into a seat-sharing agreement with the BJP for the Council by-polls. Mr. Yeddyurappa — he became Chief Minister by riding on a campaign that targeted the JD (S) for not honouring the promise of transferring power to the BJP in the coalition government in 2008 — has not only expressed his willingness to be part of the anti-Congress combine, but also indicated that his enmity with the JD (S) is a thing of the past by participating in a private function along with Mr. Kumaraswamy recently.

The results of the by-elections are expected to set a trend as that would decide whether such an informal combine of opposition parties with different ideologies would halt the Congress in its tracks in the State.

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