The Karnataka assembly by-election results, which are to be out on Monday, are being seen as an indicator of the public perception on legislators switching party loyalties and the sustainability of defections as a political strategy.
Of the 27 bypolls held in Karnataka over the last two decades, few have been as significant as the latest one, analysts and party leaders said.
The high turnout points to an emotional reaction from voters to the defections that triggered Thursday’s bypolls, keeping all candidates on the edge, analysts said. Hosakote with 90.90% votes cast, followed by Chikkaballapura (86.84%), Hunsur (80.59%), and Krishnarajapete (80.52%) recorded the highest turnout among the 15 seats.
The B.S. Yediyurappa-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government must win at least six seats to stay in power. The ruling party has won just 50% of the bypolls in the last two decades, but generally enjoys the advantage heading into the polls, according to analysts.
“In the current bypolls, we have to see if the anger that exists against the disqualified legislators is greater than the advantage of being in government," said Narendar Pani, political analyst and faculty at Azim Premji University.
However, the experience in Karnataka and other parts of the country show that defections and other forms of inorganic political growth are not sustainable.
Engineering defections paid off in the short term for Yediyurappa in 2008 but triggered a clash between loyalists and new entrants, sending the party into a tailspin and leading to the eventual collapse of the BJP’s first government in southern India. The party took more than a decade to recover.
Bypolls scripted the rise of Siddaramaiah, who took on the might of mentor-turned-rival and Janata Dal (Secular)chief H.D. Deve Gowda, and won by a margin of 257 votes in December 2006. Yediyurappa’s decline also began in 2008 when he engineered defections to get a majority. Bypolls have helped leaders such as Gowda and Mallikarjun Kharge get family members into electoral politics.
The victory of even seven disqualified legislators would not be a very positive sign of the working of democracy, said Sandeep Shastri, political analyst and pro vice-chancellor at Jain University. If people who were elected on a party symbol later change for individual gains, it would be a “mockery of the representative process", he said.
The bypolls would be the first stumbling block for Yediyurappa as he would have to accommodate the winners in the cabinet and the unsuccessful candidates possibly through the Upper House.