No matter who the opposition is, there is always space for it. Although the boycott by Tamil Nadu’s principal opposition party — the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam — made the by-election outcome in five Assembly constituencies a foregone conclusion, some of the vacated opposition space was taken up by the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam led by actor Vijayakanth. The DMDK candidates, including the independent, who was supported by the party, won 22 per cent of the total votes polled across the five constituencies. This is an increase of more than 13 percentage points over what the party bagged in the 2006 general election. While the DMDK will quite likely lose these votes to the AIADMK in a three-cornered fight, the by-elections have shown that the party is a serious player and perhaps even a game-changer. The ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam won three of the constituencies and its ally, the Congress, the remaining two. But from the start, the interest in these by-elections was not about who would win, but about what proportion of the vote the runner-up would get. While it has cause to cheer, there is little doubt that the DMDK gained more from the weaknesses of the ruling party than from its own strengths. While the DMK and the Congress can draw comfort from the verdict, there are some hard lessons for the AIADMK and its principal allies. Despite the boycott, 67 per cent of the voters turned up to vote. Quite clearly, the people did not think that boycott was a way of redressing the grievances against the Election Commission: the failure to check “abuse of power” by the ruling party and the use of Electronic Voting Machines that are allegedly not tamper-proof.
In Karnataka, which also saw by-elections to five Assembly constituencies, the contests were close. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the Janata Dal(Secular) won two seats each, and the Congress one. For the BJP, the seats lost were more important than the seats won. In Govindarajanagar and Channapatna the by-elections were caused by ‘Operation Kamala,’ which involved getting opposition MLAs to resign and then contest on the BJP ticket. And in both these constituencies, the party candidates lost. ‘Operation Kamala’ succeeded in the initial phase, when the BJP was short of a majority of its own and had to depend on the support of independents. However, continued efforts at engineering defections and fielding defectors in the same constituencies have evidently not gone down well with the people. Now that he enjoys a comfortable majority, Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa must concentrate on the tasks of development and governance.