Bengaluru: The Congress has left the Mandya and Ramanagaram seats in the Vokkaliga belt for the Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), in the bypolls scheduled to be held on 3 November with the aim of keeping the four-month-old coalition government stable in Karnataka and to continue the pre-poll alliance into 2019.
The Mandya parliamentary seat fell vacant after JD(S) leader C.S. Puttaraju successfully contested the May assembly elections while the Ramanagaram assembly seat fell vacant as Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, who won from this constituency and Channapatna, opted to retain the latter seat.
The Congress will contest the Jamkhandi assembly polls, as well as the Shivamogga and Ballari parliamentary elections, according to the agreement.
The decision to leave the Ramanagaram and Mandya seats to the JD(S), adds to the long list of compromises by the Congress, including conceding the post of chief minister despite being the bigger partner in the alliance.
However, political analysts say that this is the best possible “Plan B" for the Congress.
“What is the other alternative it (Congress) has. There is no better Plan B for the party," said Harish Ramaswamy, political analyst and faculty at Karnatak University, Dharwad. The Congress is risking eroding its social base to help it bargain for a higher number of seats in 2019 when the issue of seat-sharing does come up between the coalition partners, who have announced that they will contest next years polls together, he said.
“The Congress knows that it cannot survive locally unless the party comes to power at the Centre," Ramaswamy said.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is contesting all five bypolls, is increasing its outreach to the community by opening its doors to Vokkaliga leaders from the Congress, who are feeling overshadowed in the coalition rule.
The Vokkaliga community, believed to be the second largest caste grouping accounting for almost 14% of the electorate, had voted in favour of the JD(S), led by former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda, who is from the community.
The JD(S) inducted more Vokkaliga leaders into the cabinet and this helped further consolidate the support of the party.
Already having lost favour with the Lingayats, the Congress lost out the Vokkaliga community, who were visibly upset over being snubbed in the five year rule of former chief minister Siddaramaiah and rallied behind the JD(S) in the May Assembly elections. Analysts say that Siddaramaiah, who had stormed to power in 2013 with his AHINDA (acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits) support base, had also commissioned a caste census (which remains unpublished) that was purportedly aimed at ending the dominant caste narrative in the state.
Ramjan Darga, a political analyst said that the Congress does not mind conceding the support in Karnataka to help it gain nationally as it looks to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi led BJP. “This is because the Congress wants the BJP out of power in the Centre more than it wants power in Karnataka," he said.