The Congress’ defeats in the Vokkaliga-dominated constituencies of Sira and Rajarajeshwarinagar are considered a setback for D.K. Shivakumar, who had led a poll campaign for the first time since taking over as State party president.
The loss is the Congress’s fourth straight one since the 2018 Assembly elections. The party was decimated in the 2019 parliamentary elections and in the 2019 byelections to 15 constituencies. The margins indicate that it did much better in these seats in 2018.
Some Congress leaders strongly believe that the underlying differences between the top leaders — from fielding candidates to running the campaign in both constituencies, factionalism, and “caste-based leadership” — resulted in the poor showing of the party, which had announced many populist schemes during its five-rule under Siddaramaiah and later as part of the coalition government.
At the ground level
The Congress’ poor ground work at the booth level and attempts to appeal to the electorate on caste lines, particularly in R.R. Nagar, did not help it retain its seat, say party insiders. The victory of Mr. Munirathna, from the BJP this time after winning twice on Congress ticket, indicates that the party failed to turn his loyalists into party cadre. The narratives that the Congress picked during its campaign about the failures of the Narendra Modi and B.S. Yediyurappa governments in handling the COVID-19 crisis, the economy, migrant crisis, job loss, floods, and the criticism of land and industrial reform laws did not yield the desired result.
The “DK brothers” (Mr. Shivakumar and his brother D.K. Suresh, MP) inducted Kusuma H., daughter of Hanumantharayappa and wife of the late IAS officer D.K. Ravi, soon after the announcement of polls. This, apparently, was not to the liking of a section of party leaders. Mr. Hanumantharayappa was with the JD(S) before joining the Congress.
Some leaders, who dislike Mr. Shivakumar’s style of functioning, only made “guest” appearances during the party’s campaign in both constituencies. The ruling BJP utilised this well and highlighted the alleged differences between the KPCC chief and Mr. Siddaramaiah on the matter of leadership.
In Sira, the Congress candidate and former Minister T.B. Jayachandra suffered consecutive defeats. In 2018, he was defeated by the JD(S). In 2020, he lost to the BJP’s C.M. Rajesh Gowda by a margin of over 12,000 votes. There were reports that the party high command had opposed the veteran’s candidature in the bypolls.
The JD(S), which had opposed the poaching of its leaders by Mr. Shivakumar in the midst of the campaign, seems to have extended oblique support to the BJP in R.R. Nagar, according to some Congress leaders. In fact, JD(S) candidate V. Krishnamurthy bagged just over 10,251 votes, as opposed to the party’s vote tally of over 60,000 in 2018.