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Consolidating position

Consolidating position

Repeating their success in the Assembly elections in May this year, Congress and Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) have maintained a clear lead in the Karnataka urban local bodies held last week. Polling for urban local bodies took place on August 31 across the 2,633 wards of the state. In 2,664 seats for which results have been declared out of total 2,267 seats, Congress has won 966, BJP 910 and JD-S 373 seats. The BJP has maintained a lead in the Shimoga municipal corporation, the stronghold of its former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa. There are no clear winners in Mysuru and Tumkur municipal elections. These elections will constitute the governing bodies in over 29 city municipalities, 53 town municipalities and 23 town panchayats and in 135 wards of the three city corporations. A record voting of 67.5 per cent was registered for the civic polls. As many as 8,340 candidates -- 2,306 from Congress, 2,203 from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and 1,397 from JD-S -- were in the fray for the urban local bodies while 814 contested from the city corporations. The voting was conducted through Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in all the wards. The victory for Congress and JD-S in the urban local bodies indicate that the alliance between the two parties to keep BJP away from power has been approved by the people. BJP had narrowly missed forming the government after the Assembly elections threw up a fractured mandate early this year. Congress and JD-S which struck a post-poll alliance after the Assembly election managed to form the government in the state, with HD Kumaraswamy becoming the Chief Minister. Though political analysts initially expressed reservations over the Congress-JD-S alliance and doubted that the coalition government will function smoothly for its full term, the alliance is slowly becoming stable.

The results of Assembly elections and now the urban local body elections suggest that despite their best efforts, BJP is not able to come back to power either in the Assembly or the urban local bodies. BJP's strategy to retain power in the southern state has not been successful even though it maintains that the party will improve on its performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. But the way Congress and JD-S have consolidated their position by winning a substantial number of seats in urban local body elections clearly indicates that the coalition formed between the two parties has succeeded in reining in BJP. Like the Assembly election, the urban local bodies elections had close contests and BJP has given a tough competition to Congress. Though the two national parties -- Congress and BJP -- have managed to establish their dominance in the state politics, it is the smaller regional parties such as JD-S that continues to remain the kingmaker. It's the timely alliance between Congress and JD-S that has upset the BJP plans in the state. With the urban local bodies elections going in favour of Congress and JD-S, Karnataka is emerging as the battleground between BJP and Congress in their bid to influence the political trend ahead of the Lok Sabha election next year. After a remarkably successful campaign in north-east, where BJP was able to form the government in all four states where elections were held early this year, BJP was aiming to win the Assembly election in Karnataka to keep its winning momentum going. But the opposition led by Congress desperately needed to contain BJP ahead of the Assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh later this year. In all these three states, BJP is in power and it's fearing the anti-incumbency factor may mar its chances. Congress which sees an opportunity to resurrect itself in these politically crucial states was working for an early lead before going into the polls. The party got that opportunity in Karnataka where it offered to play a junior role in the coalition government headed by JD-S. The flexibility that Congress displayed in accommodating a regional party in its overall strategy to take on BJP at the national level enthused the opposition camp and now smaller parties like Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of Mayawati are in talks with Congress for mutually-rewarding seat-sharing deals. After losing a series of elections, Congress has managed to buck the trend by forming the government in Karnataka and retaining the support of the people as is evident from the urban local body election results.

But despite the exploits of Congress in Karnataka, BJP still remains a strong force in the state. It is the single largest party in the state Assembly and even in the urban local body elections, the number of seats won by BJP is only marginally lower than that of Congress. The party may not be off the mark if it aims to win many of the 28 Lok Sabha seats from the state in the forthcoming election.

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