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Karnataka bypoll disaster should force BJP rethink, but Amit Shah unlikely to change status quo ahead of 2019

The ruling Congress-Janata Dal Secular (JDS) alliance in Karnataka has won two assembly seats and two Lok Sabha seats in bypolls that are expected to have an impact on opposition moves to forge a grand coalition to take on the BJP in next year’s national election. The BJP has won only one parliamentary seat, Shivamogga, vacated by former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa.

The Congress has surged ahead in Ballari, a BJP stronghold since 2004. The ruling alliance has won the Mandya Lok Sabha seat and the assembly constituencies of Jamkhandi and Ramanagara. An upper hand in these by-elections will be seen as validation for the Congress-JD(S) coalition amid digs about its longevity from the BJP, which is still smarting at its failure to form a government despite winning the most number of seats in the May state elections.

Of five seats that went to by-elections, BJP held two Lok Sabha seats, but retained only Shivamogga with a smaller margin, while losing Ballari by a huge gap. In other words, as far as these by-elections are concerned, the equation of Congress-JD(S) and BJP changed from 3-2 to 4-1.
This may not look so terrible on the face of it, but behind this simple scorecard lies a bigger story of disaster for BJP. The enormity of frustration within that party is evident from the laconic comments that came from senior state leader Suresh Kumar even before the results were fully out:

An overconfident BJP had almost hoped that the by-elections would mark the beginning of the end of the coalition government of Congress and Janata Dal (Secular). There were indeed questions over whether the coalition, hastily put together after the May Assembly elections, would be able to fight the coming Lok Sabha poll together. The conduct of the leaders of the two parties after they formed the government only confirmed the doubts over whether the post-poll coalition formed after the Assembly election can be an effective pre-poll alliance for the Lok Sabha poll, considering the differences within—and between—Congress and JD(S).

Whether the coalition can put up a united fight in the Lok Sabha election is still an open question, but the two parties have indeed passed the test of unity at least for now in these by-elections


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