Bengaluru: The incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government was left red-faced despite winning one of the two assembly seats in the Karnataka bypolls.
The party, spearheaded by Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, registered a landslide victory in Sindgi, a seat previously held by the Deve Gowda-led JD(S).
But in the prestige seat of Hangal, Bommai’s backyard where the party pulled out all the stops, the BJP lost to the Congress, sending shock waves across the party.
The BJP’s candidate in Sindgi, Ramesh Bhusanur, won by a huge margin of 31,185 votes ahead of the Congress’ Ashok Managuli. The JD(S), which had previously held the seat, polled an abysmal 4,353 votes.
It was expected to be a BJP versus JD(S) poll battle in Sindgi, but the Congress managed to finish second as it handed its ticket to Managuli, the son of former JD(S) MLA M.C. Managuli.
Hangal to haunt BJP
While the landslide in Sindgi should have been the highlight for the BJP government, there is no celebration given the party’s disappointment at Hangal.
The Congress’ Srinivas Mane defeated BJP’s Shivaraj Sajjanar by 7,373 votes at Hangal.
The prestige seat, although numerically insignificant, was personal to Basavaraj Bommai and the BJP, not only because the party held it previously but also since these bypolls were Bommai’s first test of assembly poll leadership since taking over as chief minister in July.
What will add to the disappointment is that the BJP had upped the stakes in the seat. The chief minister had camped in the constituency for 10 days, while his predecessor and Lingayat strongman, B.S. Yediuyrappa, was requested to extend his campaign schedule in the seat to steer community votes in the BJP’s favour.
More than half the cabinet was also deployed for poll supervision in Hangal with ministers working round the clock, especially in the last four days leading to polling. The BJP state unit had appointed 13 ‘in-charges’ each in both seats.
From emotional appeal of “will be buried here” to seeking votes in PM Narendra Modi’s name, Bommai played every trick up his sleeve to win over the voters of Hangal. Despite all the attempts, the Congress routed the BJP.
Speaking to the media post announcement of the results, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said he is taking them very seriously.
“We won Sindgi by an astounding margin. In Hangal, we didn’t perform as well as we expected. We did put up a fight but we lost,” Bommai said. “We weren’t able to retain the vote-share and support that our former MLA, the late CM Udasi, enjoyed in the seat. People have also taken cognizance of the work that Congress candidate Srinivas Mane has done in the last two years and voted in his favour.”
“Our candidate in Sindgi, Ramesh Bhusanur, has exceeded our expectations and has won with a 30,000 vote margin. I thank the voters of Sindgi for their blessings. In Hangal, we trail. We didn’t expect to lose. We will review what went wrong. Party leaders will sit together and discuss but there is no need for the Congress to burst with pride,” B.S. Yediyurappa told reporters outside his residence Tuesday afternoon as results trickled in.
The former chief minister was quick to defend Bommai when asked if the result was a reflection of the CM’s leadership.
“We fought the election under a collective leadership. Victories or losses will be shared by all,” Yediyurappa added. “There is no need to pin the blame on any one person. We will review the results together.”
JD(S) comes a cropper
The JD(S) was decimated in both seats. Despite former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda and former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy leading the party’s campaign, the JD(S) struggled to cross the 1,000-vote mark in Hangal; it polled just 927 votes.
In Sindgi, a seat that the party held, the JD(S) polled just 4,353 votes — a sharp contrast to its 2018 winning performance, when it managed 70,865 votes.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)