It is a truism in Indian politics that ruling parties generally tend to do well in bypolls as they control the administrative machinery. However, it would be a mistake to dismiss victories in two specific assembly segments that the BJP has won in the last one year in Karnataka.
While it is true that since November 2019 there have been 17 bypolls in the state and BJP has won 14. However, it is the saffron party’s victory in the KR Pete seat last year and the Sira seat now that really stands out. The reasons for that are fairly straightforward.
The BJP has for long been seen as a ‘Lingayat’ party, primarily because of the leadership of Yediyurappa, who belongs to the community. With a 17 per cent Lingayat population in the state, the party also has benefited from that perception.
The second is that the BJP has been a North Karnataka party with nearly 81 of the 104 MLAs that won in the 2018 assembly polls coming from that part of the state.
It has historically been weak in what is seen as the ‘Old Mysuru region’ – comprising the districts which were in the past ruled by the Mysuru Wodeyar dynasty – and which incidentally is also dominated by the Vokkaliga community.
Vokkaligas, at around 13 per cent of the state population, are not only the second largest community but they have largely been immune to the charms of the BJP in spite of the party’s best efforts. The JDS has always championed the community’s cause and whenever the party has fallen out of favour, Vokkaligas have tended to back the Congress.
For the BJP, which fell 10 seats short of a simple majority in 2008 and in 2018, the need to expand its social base especially in the Old Mysuru region and amongst the Vokkaligas is key if it wants to dominate the state politics.
Which is where, the wins in KR Pete of Mandya district last year and Sira in Tumakuru now is so important. Both are Vokkaliga dominated and are in the old Mysuru region. Both are seen as bastions of Janata Dal (Secular) and the power alternated between the regional party and the Congress.
In both the battles, the BJP entrusted the task of winning those seats to the young party vice president Vijayendra. When last year, KR Pete, where JD(S) turncoat Narayana Gowda who helped BJP topple the Congress-JDS coalition stood for bypolls, the JD(S) vowed revenge. Vijavendra ensured victory of Narayan Gowda against odds but it was dismissed as a fluke.
Now, Vijayendra has repeated the feat in Sira where the BJP had never even come second and mostly lost deposit in all previous polls. By ensuring victory of its candidate Rajesh Gowda, Vijayendra has proved that he is somebody to watch in Karnataka politics.
It has helped that he is the son of chief minister Yediyurappa. At 45, he is very young by political standards, articulate and has got his father’s knack of taking people along.
While his elder brother BY Raghavendra, the MP from Shivamogga, is seen as more reserved, Vijayendra is seen as more accessible by the party workers and public.
Given the political acumen he has displayed till now, most analysts, and even political opponents, believe that it is Vijayendra who will be the inheritor of Yediyurappa’s political legacy. Vijayendra has, in a recent chat with HT, dismissed such speculation, saying that the family is united and that there is no internal rivalry.
But it is also increasingly clear that Vijayendra is trying to carve out a niche for himself and step out of his father’s shadow. Vijayendra is not without his share of controversies, with the opposition accusing him of being the super CM and also being involved in corruption, which he dismisses as the “price I pay for being the bridge between the CM and people as well as party workers”.
There is a growing clamour for Vijayendra to contest the Basva Kalyan bypoll which is likely to take place in the next few months. The incumbent Congress MLA Narayana Rao passed away due to Covid and the BJP will have to find a candidate for the seat.
In the 2018 assembly poll too, Vijayendra was an aspirant for the Varuna constituency which was eventually won by another former CM’s son Yathindra Siddaramiah. Even as CM Yediyurappa dismissed speculation that Vijayendra would be fielded from Basva Kalyan, the ambitious son himself is more careful and says “will take up any responsibility given by the party”.
For Vijayendra, the challenge would be to continue growing an identity outside of his father Yediyurappa and at the same time inherit his political mantle as a leader of Lingayats and beyond. How successful he is in this journey would determine his political future.