Bengaluru: Elections to three municipal corporations in Karnataka, seen as a “sample test” of newly appointed Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, have thrown up mixed results, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) securing a clear majority in Belagavi and significantly improving its tally in Kalaburagi. However, the results of the Hubballi Dharwad municipal polls have come as a dampener for the ruling party, as it fell short of a majority.
The elections to all three municipal corporation was previously held in March 2013, but polls were postponed, first due to a delimitation process, and then the Covid pandemic.
Bommai, former CM Jagadish Shettar and Union minister Pralhad Joshi all hail from the Hubballi Dharwad region, and the BJP was expecting to gain a clear majority in the municipal corporation polls.
The results could also worry the Congress, because the entry of Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM into the race is estimated to have hurt the opposition party’s chances in Kalaburagi and Hubballi Dharwad.
“This was almost like a sample test of electoral performance after one month of my taking over the office of the chief minister. Out of the three corporations, we have a clear majority in one and we will manage a majority in the other two. All three corporations will have BJP mayors,” said a relieved CM Bommai while addressing the media Monday.
Later, he left for Delhi on a two-day visit, during which he is expected to discuss the results of the urban local body elections with the party high command and meet Union ministers regarding central schemes and projects in the state.
What happened in Hubballi Dharwad?
In the BJP’s bastion of Hubballi Dharwad, it managed to win only 39 of the 82 seats. Before delimitation of this corporation, which resulted in an increase in the number of seats to 83 from 67, the BJP held 33 of the 67 seats while Congress had 22, the JD(S) 9.
B.S. Yediyurappa’s KJP, which merged into the BJP in 2014, won one seat, while two were won by Independents. This time around, the Congress has improved its tally to 33 seats, while the AIMIM won three and the JD(S) one.
While senior leaders like Shettar refused to join Basavaraj Bommai’s cabinet, citing “self-respect”, the former CM’s supporters in Hubballi Dharwad too had made no secret of their disappointment.
When ThePrint asked Arvind Bellad, MLA from Hubballi Dharwad West, if his supporters and those of Shettar had dented the party’s prospects, he denied it.
“There is a clear endorsement of support to Bommai from everybody. We didn’t fare as well as we imagined because of two things. One, some 20-25 per cent of our voters couldn’t vote due to glitches in the voters’ list. Two, there were too many aspirants and those who didn’t get a ticket contested as independents,” said Bellad.
Prof. Narendar Pani, political analyst and Dean at the School of Social Sciences, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru, said he wondered if there was a “larger negative sentiment against the BJP”.
“As the party in power, with the number of leaders they have (from Hubballi Dharwad), the BJP should have swept the corporation, but that has not happened,” he said, adding that while the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti’s (MES) votes in Belagavi seem to have been transferred to the BJP, the party benefitted from the AIMIM’s participation in Kalaburagi.
Effect of BSY exit on Lingayat vote
All three corporations that went to the polls — Kalaburagi, Belagavi and Hubballi Dharwad — are strongholds of the Lingayat community. In Kalaburagi, the number of Lingayat voters is the highest, followed by minorities, while in Belagavi, it is Marathas, and in Hubballi Dharwad, it is OBCs and minorities.
The biggest concern for the BJP around Yediyurappa’s exit was to assess the mood of the Lingayat community, and if its unwavering support to the party would change. The party has won 35 out of 58 seats in Belagavi, which would allay such concerns to a certain extent. The Congress won 10 seats in Belagavi while the AIMIM won one.
In the Lingayat and Muslim-dominated Kalaburagi, the BJP ended barely four seats behind the Congress, which previously held the corporation. Of the 55 seats, Congress won 27, while the BJP won 23 seats, eight more than last time.
All elected representatives, including the local MLAs, MLCs and MP, get one vote each in electing the mayor for the municipal corporations. For example, in Kalaburagi, the BJP has won 23 seats, but has 5 MLAs and MLCs, taking its vote total in the mayoral election to 28, while the Congress has won 27 seats and has one MLA and one MP, taking its tally to 29. Neither party has enough numbers to claim majority, and hence, they are looking at the JD(S) and Independents.
“We are still the single largest party, and with the combined votes of our legislators and MP we will increase the gap. There are four JD(S) candidates and one independent who have won, and we hope to win their support,” Priyank Kharge, Congress MLA from Chittapur in Kalaburagi, told ThePrint.
AIMIM’s winning debut
The All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM), in its debut municipal corporation election in Karnataka, has managed to win four seats — one in Belagavi and three in Hubballi Dharwad. Interestingly, all these seats were previously held by the Congress, fuelling the party’s suspicion that Asaduddin Owaisi’s party is playing “spoilsport”.
AIMIM, based in Hyderabad in neighbouring Telangana, has previously contested in town council elections, but this time, fielded 11 candidates in Hubballi Dharwad, six in Belagavi and 21 in Kalaburagi.
“If AIMIM’s intent is to win elections, we welcome it, but its primary job is to help the BJP by dividing the Congress’ vote,” alleged Saleem Ahmed, working president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee, while speaking to ThePrint.
However, AIMIM leaders vehemently rejected the Congress’ allegation that they are the BJP’s “B Team”.
“The Congress has, for decades, treated minority and Dalit votes as their property without giving representation or power to them. We at AIMIM are against the BJP’s brand of politics as well as the Congress’. Our slogan is Jai Bheem-Jai Meem,” Usman Gani, state president of the party told ThePrint.
Now, the AIMIM intends to contest at least 50 of the state’s 224 assembly seats when Karnataka goes to the polls in 2023.
“We will contest from assembly constituencies in Bidar, Kalaburagi, Raichur, Koppal, Vijayapura, Belagavi,” Gani said. In all these areas, the Congress and the BJP are in a direct two-way contest.
“While AIMIM has not won any seats in Kalaburagi, Congress has lost a few seats with narrow margins of nine votes or 23 votes,” Congress’ Priyank Kharge said. He added that that the Congress will study the vote split to assess the scenario.
Meanwhile, N. Ravi Kumar, general secretary of the Karnataka BJP, told ThePrint: “AIMIM makes no difference to us. In fact, they are not a threat to the BJP because the seats that they field their candidates in are seats that the BJP won’t win because of the demographics. Whether AIMIM dents Congress’ vote share or not is of no consequence to the BJP.”
(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)