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'Bommai will struggle to lead BJP to victory in Karnataka'

By Aditi Phadnis
March 14, 2023 12:29 IST
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'Some of his ministers have performed abysmally, and Bommai has faced an unwanted campaign of religious polarisation imposed by national BJP leaders.'

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra D Modi receives a grand welcome on his arrival in Mandya, March 12, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

James Manor has studied Karnataka politics for 50 years.

He has authored several books, including one co-authored with the late E Raghavan, Broadening and Deepening Democracy: Political Innovation in Karnataka.

He is professor emeritus at the School of Advanced Study, University of London.

In this interview, he tells Aditi Phadnis/Business Standard what to look for in the coming assembly elections in Karnataka.


What impact will B S Yediyurappa's 'promotion' and likely lack of a say in candidate selection have on the BJP in the forthcoming assembly elections?
How do you assess the tenure of the current chief minister, Basavaraj Bommai?
How is the BJP going to cope with the influx of defectors?

In 2021, the Bharatiya Janata Party's national leaders forced their chief minister, B S Yediyurappa, to step aside.

He had utterly dominated the party in Karnataka since the 1990s, and was reluctant to give way.

He was placated somewhat by promotion to the BJP's parliamentary board.

But amid Prime Minister Narendra Modi's radical centralisation of power, it has minimal influence.

More importantly, Yediyurappa's demand that his two sons be accommodated by the party has been accepted.

As a result, and despite his distaste for the BJP's drive towards communal polarisation in the state, he will be an active if somewhat disgruntled figure in the election campaign.

It is important to understand that many BJP politicians and activists in Karnataka have a low opinion of Yediyurappa.

They resent his autocratic ways as party leader, his unrealistic policies as chief minister, and his ineptitude at concealing illicit 'fund raising', which embroiled him in corruption charges.

On the other hand, he is widely popular among fellow Lingayats, who can produce victories in many rural constituencies.

His successor as chief minister, Basavaraj Bommai (also a Lingayat), has struggled to cope.

He has not reduced corruption or destructive infighting between party loyalists and those who were induced to defect in 2019 to bring the BJP to power.

Some of his ministers have performed abysmally, and Bommai has faced an unwanted campaign of religious polarisation imposed by national BJP leaders.

After seven state elections in which ruling parties have lost, he will struggle to lead the BJP to victory.

What is the strategy the Congress is going to adopt?

The Congress will stress what it sees as the BJP's poor record in power.

It will, for example, remind voters that after Modi accused the last Congress government in the state of corruption -- of being a '10 per cent' regime -- major contractors in the state have twice written to him to say that BJP leaders have been demanding 40 per cent.

To counter Modi's campaign speeches, the Congress will emphasise one obvious point. If the BJP is re-elected, Modi will not come to Bengaluru to be chief minister. Instead, the state will see more of the same.

The Congress will appeal to social groups in two different ways -- which do not sit easily alongside each other.

Former chief minister Siddaramaiah, now Opposition leader in the Assembly, will again offer his AHINDA strategy -- a Kannada acronym embracing the Other Backward Classes, Muslims, and Dalits.

At the same time Pradesh Congress Committee President D K Shivakumar will seek support from his fellow Vokkaligas, a landed group.

The two leaders, both of whom want to be the next chief minister, will put on a show of unity.

Their aim is to minimise two things: Contradictions between their two messages and conflicts between the factions that support each of them.

The appeal of the AHINDA strategy may be weakened by a lack of solidarity among OBCs even though Siddaramaiah belongs to this community.

Here, as in many other states, the OBCs are not a solid voting bloc. They tend to fragment.

Shivakumar's appeal to the Vokkaligas must overcome their traditional loyalty to the Janata Dal-Secular, headed by Vokkaliga stalwarts H D Deve Gowda and his son and former chief minister H D Kumaraswamy.

And as noted above, the Congress will face disenchantment among AHINDA groups with the newly strengthened appeal to the Vokkaligas, and distaste among the Vokkaligas for the AHINDA message.

The Congress is making efforts to bolster its party organisation as it did when defeating the BJP in the recent Himachal Pradesh election.

Activism at the grassroots will increase to counter Union Home Minister Amit Shah's work to enhance the BJP ground game.

A 'war room' will give the campaign a greater focus and swifter responses to new trends.

And the Congress will develop carefully crafted appeals to specific interest groups, including women.

Have the minorities drifted away from the Congress into the arms of parties like the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen?
And is the Aam Aadmi Party likely to get any traction?

There are several unknowns here. Muslim voters are the key minority because they have significant numerical strength.

Some may support the Janata Dal-Secular because its state president, C M Ibrahim, is a veteran Muslim leader. But after a long, chequered political career, his pulling power is in doubt.

Some may vote for the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen.

But it is likely that most will remain with the Congress because they see it as the main rival to the BJP, which has mounted an unprecedented, humiliating effort to promote communal polarisation in order to win Hindu votes.

Aam Aadmi Party activists insist they have gained considerable ground but that appears to be accurate mainly in urban areas, especially Bengaluru.

Polls and field reports strongly suggest that they have only limited support in rural areas, where elections in Karnataka are won and lost.

Where the Congress is in close contest with either of its two main rivals, enough Muslims or Aam Aadmi Party supporters might turn away to deny it victory.

But reliable evidence on this is so limited that answers are only guesswork.

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Aditi Phadnis
Source: source