A united opposition is not necessarily a stronger opposition. In recent by-elections to the Lok Sabha from Karnataka, the two major Opposition parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Janata Dal (Secular), have lost more than they gained by putting up a show of unity against the ruling Congress. Fresh from its triumph in the Assembly election earlier this year, the Congress led by Chief Minister S. Siddaramaiah seemed to have no trouble at all in defeating JD(S) candidates in the two constituencies, Mandya and Bangalore Rural, both considered to be JD(S) strongholds. Without keeping an eye on the long term, the BJP, quite inexplicably, chose to support the JD(S) against the Congress in an apparent effort to unite opposition votes. True, the Congress benefited greatly from a divided opposition in the recent Assembly election, especially the split in the BJP with the exit of former Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa. But opportunistic alliances of the kind struck by the BJP and the JD(S) inspire no confidence in voters. The two parties have been partners in government before, only to break away just as opportunistically as they had come together. As the principal Opposition party in the State, the BJP did itself no favours by staying away from the contest in support of the JD(S). On the other hand, the JD(S), which relies to some extent on a secular image for its votes, was shown up as ever so eager to do not-so-secret deals with the BJP. For JD(S) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy, the loss is especially demoralising. Bangalore Rural was won by him in 2009, and he had vacated the seat for his wife Anita following his election to the Assembly in May. The huge margin of defeat, 1,37,007, can do little for the spirits of the party’s cadre.
Mr. Kumaraswamy’s loss is Mr. Siddaramaiah’s gain. In the few months he has been in power, the Chief Minister has done almost no wrong. Although he is a recent entrant in the faction-ridden Congress, Mr. Siddaramaiah managed to take along with him other leaders of the party. And the social welfare schemes initiated by his government came to the aid of the Congress. The winning candidates, actor Ramya from Mandya and D.K. Suresh from Bangalore Rural, were new to electoral battle, but they managed to get the full support of the party’s organisational machinery. Clearly, the Congress government is still in the honeymoon period. But in politics, a month is a long time, and the challenge for Mr. Siddaramaiah is to maintain his party’s winning streak till Lok Sabha 2014, more than six months away. With a little help from the BJP and the JD(S), he could deliver what his party high command expects of him.