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Karnataka Won't Be A Cakewalk For BJP

March 07, 2023 14:04 IST

The current public mood is that it will be a hung assembly.
No one, not even in the BJP, is talking about even a simple majority for the party.

IMAGE: Union Home Minister Amit Shah with Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Pralhad Joshi, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, state Minister Dr Ashwathnarayan C N and others at the Palace ground in Bengaluru, January 1, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

The battlefield that Union Home Minister and senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Amit Shah has set for the party in Karnataka is an odd one.

Mr Shah was in Bengaluru on official work but later proceeded to the Old Mysuru region for a massive political public meeting.

A short political history: Old Mysuru has 11 districts and 89 seats in the 224-member Karnataka assembly.

Bengaluru, with 28 seats, falls in the Old Mysuru region.

In 2008, when the BJP was at its peak in the state, the party won 28 seats from this region.

Seventeen came from Bengaluru and 11 from the rest.

In 2018, the BJP won 22 from Old Mysuru -- 11 from Bengaluru and 11 from the rest of the region.

The short of the long is that the BJP has never won more than 11 seats in the region, which minus Bengaluru, has 61 seats.

The real power here in this area, dominated by rich cotton and sugarcane farmers, is the Janata Dal-Secular, led by the Vokkaliga leaders, the Deve Gowda family, which has been kingmakers in state politics for several decades.

The only exception was a brief spell when the party, it was thought, might have broken through.

In 2019, a by-election was held for the Krishnarajapet constituency 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 Janata Dal-Secular MLA K C Narayana Gowda, one of the 17 MLAs of the erstwhile Janata Dal-Secular-Congress ruling coalition who crossed the floor and resigned to make way for the BJP to form the government in the state, contested from the seat and won by a 9,000-vote margin.

The election was micromanaged by then chief minister B S Yedyurappa's (son B S Vijayendra.

This was in the heart of Vokkaliga country. The BSY family is Lingayat. For the first time, it seemed that the campaign led by Mr Vijayendra had managed to secure a toe-hold in an area that does not favour the BJP.

Mr Shah goes to Mandya and goes full tilt against the Deve Gowda family.

Those who were present at the rally say his speech was 'reinterpreted' by the translator who not only made several translation mistakes, diluting Mr Shah's stinging address, but added his own lines and slogans.

Mr Shah had to intervene and publicly reprimand him on some occasions.

The translator toned down the speech, probably because he was chary of the cost the BJP might have to pay to criticise the H D Deve Gowda family in its family home.

But everyone heard Mr Shah say: 'Karnataka would become the ATM of a family if the JD-S was voted to power.'

The family capitalised on this and the retaliation came from Deve Gowda's son and former chief minister H D Kumaraswamy, who said: 'Amit Shah is not even equal to H D Deve Gowda's toenails.'

After that, Mr Shah held a meeting of BJP leaders, which was drawn up by the state unit of the party. Mr Vijayendra was not invited.

Here, according to those who attended, Mr Shah "took the pants off" the BJP leadership, asking the unit to get its act together quickly.

Karnataka will be the first major state that will go to the polls this year, in April.

Is the Gujarat model -- upheaval of party and government -- to be applied there? It doesn't look like it.

Party chief Nalin Kateel's term ended in August. He hasn't been replaced.

By contrast, in Gujarat, C R Paatil was made Gujarat party chief two years ahead of the polls.

The government faces severe anti-incumbency and is dogged by corruption and other scams.

Mr Yeddyurappa was moved out of the state by shifting him to the parliamentary board.

But there is no one who looks able to replace him.

There are other problems. Mr Shah can rail against the Gowda family till he's blue in the face.

The fact is, the BJP does not have a single credible Vokkaliga leader whom it can build up as an alternative.

If D K Shiva Kumar of the Congress and a Vokkaliga is projected as an alternative to the JD-S, Mr Shah's criticism of the Gowda family could end up helping the Congress!

The countdown to the elections has begun and the current public mood is that it will be a hung assembly.

No one, not even in the BJP, is talking about even a simple majority for the party.

The BJP has a chance to make history and end the trend of the incumbent party being voted out of power.

The last time this happened was with Devaraj Urs in 1978.

To achieve that, it has to take drastic steps, acting immediately.

There is no doubt that the appeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is undiminished.

But to leverage that, you need a strong leader on the ground.

Mr Yeddyurappa could have been one -- but he has announced he will not contest the 2023 elections.

The party has to invent a double-engine soon. Without that Karnataka might be lost.

Aditi Phadnis
Source: source image