Bengaluru: The State Election Commission of Karnataka on Thursday announced that 105 urban local bodies (ULBs) will go to polls on 29 August, in elections that are likely to be the first major test for the coalition between the Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), and the Congress in the state.
The 105 local bodies will include 2,574 wards. The wards, which are spread over eight districts of south Karnataka, three districts in the coastal region and 11 districts of north Karnataka, have a registered voter base of more than 3.6 million.
The election results will be declared on 1 September.
The ULB elections gain significance as they are being held shortly after the assembly elections and before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
The polls in the northern and coastal regions of Karnataka are not likely to test the already stressed relationship between the coalition partners as the JD(S) has little or no presence there.
However, the Congress would be at a disadvantage if it concedes the southern parts to the JD(S), from where the regional party led by former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda and chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy draws support, should the two decide to fight the elections jointly.
Contesting the elections together also carries the risk of further upsetting the grassroots level workers, who are already unhappy with the state-level coalition. This could create problems for the two parties, which are trying hard to strengthen the coalition to counter the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with the aim of improving on their respective 2014 Lok Sabha performances in the state.
Contesting separately would also not be easy as the two parties would face an uphill task in regrouping their forces to honour their commitments for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
“We have to take a call in this coordination committee meeting. Some people are saying that we should contest jointly, while some are saying no. We have to discuss it," said Dinesh Gundu Rao, Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president.
Kunwar Danish Ali, the spokesperson and national secretary general of the JD(S), said the party will meet on Sunday to take a call on the matter.
The ULB polls, when held before assembly elections, are considered an indicator of the way the vote will swing. This was evident when 208 ULBs went to the polls in 2013, with the Congress performing well in the ULB polls and the subsequent assembly elections.
“If they fight together, the Congress will be the loser as there are no great gains by associating with the JD(S) in north Karnataka. They will also have to concede ground in south Karnataka for no visible gain," said A. Narayana, a political analyst and faculty at the Azim Premji University.
The two parties may find it more beneficial contesting the ULB polls separately, as it given them a chance to keep their “individual identities" intact.
Rao points out that though the Congress and JD(S) were in a coalition at the state-level (2004-2006), the two parties decided to fight the ULB polls separately that time as well.
Narayana says that there is a bigger correlation between assembly and ULB elections than polls to ULBs and the Lok Sabha.
“Assuming it (Lok Sabha polls) will be advanced, there will be eight months for the parties to regroup," Narayana said.