The byelections to 15 of the 17 seats in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly are expected to be held on December 5 but there is no clarity, as yet, on whether the disqualified legislators can contest leave alone the conduct of the bypolls. The seats have remained vacant after the legislators concerned decided to walk out of the Congress and Janata Dal (S), resulting in the fall of the H.D. Kumaraswamy-led coalition government.
In contrast to the Congress which is gearing up for the byelections, there is considerable anxiety in the ruling BJP given the fact that the Supreme Court has reserved its judgment in the case of the disqualified legislators and added to it is the intra-party dissent. BJP loyalists are compelled to give way to newcomers since the party has come to power thanks to the support of the latter.
It is evident that the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) will fight the case to the end to prevent the disqualified legislators from securing a chance to contest in the byelections and this indeed would turn out to be a snub to the BJP which encouraged defections in violation of the provisions of the anti-defection law. Leader of the Congress Legislature Party and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has to also prove a point that it was not he who prompted the party legislators to cross over to the BJP, although most of them who tendered their resignation from the membership of the House were his confidants. The interest that he exhibits in the bypolls and the final outcome will be a pointer to the role of Mr. Siddaramaiah in the fall the Kumaraswamy government. There is considerable dissent within the BJP in fielding the disqualified legislators who are obviously new entrants to the party although it should be noted that the party leadership had given them an assurance that they would be given the party ticket if they enabled the BJP gain in strength on the floor of the Assembly. There are many aspirants within the BJP who lost the last Assembly elections by a small margin in the given constituencies which are now heading for byelections to the very same members who had then contested on the Congress or JD(S) ticket.
Trouble is also brewing in the JD(S) with a large section of party legislators seeking to raise a rebellion against the Deve Gowda family which has total control over the state of affairs in the party. It is another matter that these legislators want to enjoy certain benefits all the time and since the party is now out of power they are unable to call the shots.
The JD (S) leadership is not in good terms with the BJP and this would directly result in the legislators having to fend for themselves.
The BJP may not be in a commanding strength ahead of the byelections but then it needs only another six members which will enable the party gain a simple majority in the 225-member Assembly. Despite the complaints made out against the B.S. Yeddyurappa government, the differences within the Congress and the JD (S) should enable the ruling party gain in strength without much ado.
(The writer is Senior Fellow, The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy)