What lay behind the Karnataka victory? To be sure, Yediyurappa’s own effort: Rarely do chief ministers work as hard as he did for a set of by-elections. He visited each constituency twice or three times, making a total of at least 50 visits, leaving nothing to chance. But the BJP won in Old Mysore, in the heart of Vokkaliga land, the bastion of Janata Dal (S) and Congress.
Consider what this means. The Krishnarajapet (KRPet) constituency is in Mandya district where the BJP has never polled more than 10,000 votes in total from the eight or so Assembly constituencies in the region. Former JD(S) MLA KC Narayana Gowda, who was one of the 17 MLAs of the erstwhile JD(S)-Congress ruling coalition and who resigned to make way for the BJP to form government in the state, contested from the seat and won by a 9,000-vote margin. In one seat alone.
The importance of the KR Pet victory is two-fold. One, the management of the election was entrusted to Vijayendra, Yediyurappa’s younger son. In the 2018 Assembly elections, outgoing Congress Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s constituency was Varuna, in this region. Vijayendra was keen on contesting against Siddaramaiah, but at the last moment, the party gave the seat to a BL Santhosh-backed candidate. The Congress fielded Siddaramiah’s son Yathindra, who won the seat. But the whole episode cut Vijayendra to the quick and he vowed to return to the region to post a victory. KR Pet was that victory.
Yediyurappa’s area of work and influence has been Shimoga. But he was born in KR Pet. Vijayendra incorporated this in his strategy. In a two lakh-strong constituency, around 93,000 voters are Vokkaliga. Logic dictated that it would be impossible to play the caste card by the BJP which is seen as a Lingayat party. Instead, Vijayendra campaigned on behalf of his father as a prodigal son who had returned home. People scoffed at him, predicting that the BJP could never win from old Mysore. His retort was: "If Amit Shah can make the BJP win in Bengal, it can win from Old Mysuru as well.”
In the by-elections, it is the BJP which has won, not the candidates: make no mistake. Yediyurappa’s critics will now focus on lapses in governance and administration. But politically, a window that was always closed to the BJP has been opened by Vijayendra. He, along with a flock of other young leaders in the party, will be a man to watch in the future politics of Karnataka.