Karnataka Is Looking Towards The BJP For Answers, But The Party Has None

Sharan Setty

Jul 11, 2024, 02:36 PM | Updated 02:34 PM IST

BJP is under criticism for not effectively playing the role of an opposition in Karnataka.
BJP is under criticism for not effectively playing the role of an opposition in Karnataka.
  • The BJP in Karnataka has ample opportunity for introspection and must enact significant reforms to avoid public backlash in upcoming state elections.
  • An assembly election and a general election took place in Karnataka in the last couple of years. In 2023, during the assembly polls, Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP's) mandate was nearly halved, and the Basavaraj Bommai government was ousted from power.

    People in Karnataka, particularly in the northern region, voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Congress that promised five welfare schemes including free rice, electricity, bus rides, and financial support to women and unemployed youth.

    Excessive socialism favoured the party, and Siddaramaiah retook the oath of office after 10 years.

    The BJP's image was tainted, and a postmortem was conducted to find the reasons: corruption, perception that a few BJP leaders had no ideological loyalty and kept switching sides to benefit themselves, perceived disrespect to B S Yediyurappa (BSY) by the high command and anti-incumbency that was built over three years.

    While everything seemed difficult, BSY's son B Y Vijayendra took over as the state unit's chief and promised a good performance in the Lok Sabha polls. And he did deliver, but one could argue that the BJP has always had an advantage over the Congress during general elections since 1999.

    While the BJP-JD(S) or Janata Dal (Secular) alliance may have won 19 seats, the Congress performed decently by winning nine seats on their own this time as compared to winning just one in 2019. The freebies seemed to have had an impact, as the Congress exceeded its expectations in the second phase of the elections in northern Karnataka.

    The BJP sent a diverse bunch of representatives to Parliament which included a former army officer (Brijesh Chowta), the Maharaja of Mysuru (Yaduveer Wodiyar), a Padma-winning cardiologist (Dr C N Manjunath) who was praised by former US president Barack Obama and three former chief ministers — H D Kumaraswamy, Basavaraj Bommai and Jagadish Shettar.

    While the BJP may be relieved that the 'adjustment' politics back home will be a lot less given that the heavyweights are all in Parliament now, there are new issues that have come to trouble the party.

    After BSY's retirement, the party does not have a strong Lingayat face which can pull the support of the masses as he was able to do. While it is too soon to be passing judgements on Vijayendra's merit, the BJP also silently fears that the Yediyurappa clan has only gotten stronger with the recent results.

    This will embolden the father-son duo, who have not compromised or shown any soft spot for dissenters like K S Eshwarappa. Furthermore, the BJP had tall and strong leaders like Ananth Kumar, C T Ravi, Prahlad Joshi and others — making them a formidable team of men who were from the grassroots, but were equally articulate when it came to matters of polity and governance.

    The recent statements from the likes of Anantkumar Hegde, Tejasvi Surya and Prathap Simha seem to have done more damage than good for the party, as it is constantly under fire from its ideological opponents for becoming more 'communal' and 'provocative' as compared to a few years ago when Yediyurappa would outrightly condemn attacks on minority groups in the state.

    While the lack of leadership is one issue, the lack of a vision for Bengaluru and Karnataka is another. Bommai, during his term as the chief minister of Karnataka did envision the economy growing to a trillion dollars by 2032, but never laid out a roadmap for the same. The public is largely unaware of what the party intends to do on many matters: growth in the most underdeveloped districts like Bidar, Raichur and Kalburagi.

    What is the party's vision for Bengaluru, as the city will turn 500 soon? What have they done for the last two or three terms they have been in power in the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP)?

    How are they going to deliver governance and welfare schemes to the tribals and minorities in the state?

    When will the Bengaluru-Mangaluru highway be completed? What happened to plans of bringing bullet trains and high-speed rail corridors to the state? What happens to all the taxes people contribute to the Indian economy? How much do they actually get back?

    These may seem like rhetorical issues raised by the Congress, but they seem to resonate with the masses. Whether one agrees with Siddaramaiah's schemes or not, they have been approved by the people of Karnataka who perhaps felt that he presented a clear vision and path to them.

    Remember, the BJP is yet to get a full majority of its own in the state. They have always fallen short, and either gotten support from a regional partner or poached independents and turncoats from the Congress to form the government in the state. 'Op Kamala' is an infamous term used to describe the BJP's tactics.

    The BJP is out of its depth currently, with the experience and the wisdom being transferred to Parliament. Locally, it needs to identify, empower and make space for leaders who are not just from the grassroots but are also articulate and impactful. It needs to work hard on rebranding itself, as the corruption-tainted image has to be shed.

    Many senior leaders have expressed their displeasure over the BSY family strongly calling the shots, and were either gagged or silenced. This includes Eshwarappa, Basangouda Patil Yatnal, Ramesh Jigajinagi among others who have either criticised the BSY family or the party for sidelining them based on their caste or other reasons.

    Truth is, even some Sangh seniors in Keshava Krupa — the RSS Karnataka HQ — share the sentiments that are being echoed. They feel that many of the current lot of leaders have compromised with their ideological commitment, are corrupt to the core and are nothing more than power brokers and real estate agents.

    Women are nowhere to be seen in Karnataka BJP. Apart from Sobha Karandlaje, there is not a single woman who is as empowered as she is. There are many who are in the party, like Malavika Avinash, Surabhi Hodigere and ground-level karyakartas who are extremely capable and talented, but are rarely recognised for their work.

    Even if a woman were to become a Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) or a Member of the Legislative Council (MLC), she will not hold anything beyond the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare. That is the unfortunate state of politics in Karnataka — not just the BJP.

    With the scams being uncovered in Karnataka, fuel and milk prices on the rise, the middle class being unhappy with the implementation of the freebies, and dengue cases on the rise, there are enough issues that the party could take up, but is not.

    How many BJP leaders spoke up against actor Darshan when he was arrested? None.

    Today, the party is infested with MLAs and MLCs who are either there on the basis of their caste, money or muscle power or have business and familial ties with each other.

    Real estate still calls the shots in Karnataka politics, and the people have just given up on the current class of politicians who lack the depth, integrity, gravitas or the decency that one expects to see in leaders.

    There is a lot of room for introspection for BJP, and the party needs to implement major reforms or face the wrath of the public in the future elections in the state.

    Sharan Setty (Sharan K A) is an Associate Editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @sharansetty2.

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