Can BJP Turn The Tide In Its Favour In Karnataka?
Focussed campaigning by Yeddyurappa seems to turn the tide in favour of the BJP in Karnataka.
The state of Karnataka is made up of four regions, each previously part of other ecosystems. There is the ‘old Mysore’ region, comprising the districts of the south which once belonged to the princely state of the Wadiyars. Then there is the ‘Hyderabad Karnataka’, which consists of the districts of Bijapur, Raichur, Gulbarga, etc, that once formed part of the Nizam’s dominions, the coastal belt comprising Uttar Kannada, Dakshin Kannada and Udupi and finally there is ‘Mumbai Karnataka’, which lies in the geographic north-west of the state and was a part of the Bombay presidency during the British rule.
The Unique Politics Of The Region
The Mumbai Karnataka area has a different political behaviour when compared to the other parts of the state. There are only two main contenders for the ballot here – the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) and the Congress. Independents and other parties are of very limited influence in these areas. Only in Marathi-speaking pockets of Belagavi (known earlier as Belgaum), there was some traction for Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti, whose singular poll plank is the integration of Belagavi into Maharashtra. The other influential independents are most often rebels from the primary parties who were looking to spoil the show.
The BJP gained relevance in the Mumbai Karnataka region in a phased manner. First, it was the presence of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and its members in most parts of the region. Second, the violence after the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the Idgah Maidan incident in Hubli created a strong support for the Hindutva cause here.
The principal opposition to the Congress until then, the Janata Dal, which split into the Janata Dal (United) and the Janata Dal (Secular) also formed the poaching ground for the BJP. The appeal of Hindutava along with the defection of many leaders like Ramesh Jigajinagi, Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, Umesh Katti, Govind Karjol etc from the erstwhile Janata Dal created the popular support base for the party.
The Relevance Of The Region For The BJP
The Mumbai Karnataka and the Central Karnataka regions of the state were key to BJP’s past successes in the 2008 assembly and the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. In the upcoming elections, the BJP faces the challenge to match up to its past performances to succeed in gaining the mandate in the state.
The gates of the Vidhana Soudha in Bangalore were opened in 2008 for the first majority government of the BJP in south India. The BJP had won an incredible 36 seats out of 50 seats in the Mumbai Karnataka area.
This was a result of the solid consolidation of the Lingayat community behind B S Yeddyurappa, combined with his good track record of being a pro-farmer and pro-poor leader. This was followed by a lacklustre performance by the party in the 2013 elections, where the BJP reduced its tally from 36 to a meagre 12 seats. The Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP), the rebel party of Yeddyurappa, played spoilsport in most of the seats by splitting the Lingayat vote to the advantage of the Congress. Only leaders like Anand Mamani, Laxman Savadi, Sanjay Patil, Jagadish Shettar and Umesh Katti of the BJP were able to hold on to their seats due to their personal influence.
In 2014, with Yeddyurappa’s KJP back in the BJP fold, the party revived its electoral prowess in the region with a lead secured on 39 of the 50 seats in the area. However, the hopes for a resurgent BJP were still uncertain. The cadre base, which the BJP prided itself on, had been split in the middle between BJP and KJP factions. The candidates from both the factions are angling for the BJP ticket in 2018, with one claiming to be the party loyalist and the other claiming the favour of the leader at the top.
The Parivartana Yatre In The Run-Up To The 2018 Elections
The Congress party was aware of the difference in the BJP they had faced in 2013, and the one they were to face in 2018 – the Narendra Modi factor. The Modi factor and the reunited BJP were throwing a spanner in the works for Congress. This was a major worry as Karnataka was the only major state where the grand old party had managed to hold on to power.
The counterplan to this threat from the BJP was found by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah in cleaving the Lingayat community in half. He tasked his star boys – M B Patil and Vinay Kulkarni, both Lingayats from the area with the rouse to have the community ask for a separate religion status. The two Congressmen with their financial might and muscle power started organising rallies to press for the demand. They looked to place the BJP and especially Yeddyurappa, the unanointed champion of the Lingayats, in a tough spot with this demand.
While the BJP faced the Lingayat threat from the outside, it also faces many internal issues as well. The reintegration of the KJP-BJP cadre was still an issue. There were many seats where there were no less than five aspirants for a BJP ticket and none of them were uniting for the party cause. This was the grim situation that faced the BJP prior to the conceptualisation of the Parivartana Yatre.
The Resurgence Of The BJP
With multiple issues plaguing them, the BJP decided that their state president Yeddyurappa would travel to all the 224 assembly constituencies on a Parivartana Yatre to revamp the organisational base and to put forth his own vision of a Nava Karnataka to the people.
The rath fashioned for the purpose of the yatre entered the Mumbai Karnataka area from the coastal regions of the Karnataka on 16 November 2017. A combination of Hindutva along with the pitch for vikas (development) was the line taken by the party there. Yeddyurappa changed his tack in this area. Buoyed with the raucous receptions and crowds he was drawing, he made bold statements invoking the pride of Rani Chennamma, took a blood oath to resolve the Mahadayi issues and assured the people on completion of all pending works in the Krishna Basin, even if it would cost his government Rs 1 Lakh crore to complete it. The people attending the rallies were upbeat as Yeddyurappa was engaging head-on with the issues that mattered to them.
Another observation which is bound to please the BJP was the crowds the yatre was drawing in the Congress strongholds. Places like Gokak, Yemkanmaradi and Babaleshwar – all home to strongmen in the state cabinet drew crowds of 30,000, 12,000 and 45,000 people respectively, all numbers that exceeded expectations. The BJP leaders did not hold themselves back seeing the response they were receiving. They made passionate speeches exhilarating the crowds and the local social media groups multiplied the impact of these happenings. The Congress strongmen were all shaken on their own turfs. This sent shockwaves in the Congress party across the region.
The line of attack on the Congress was very direct in the speeches of the BJP leaders. Yeddyurappa lambasted Siddaramaiah for dragging the state to the brink of bankruptcy. He exposed the Congress for its unkept promise of spending Rs 10,000 crore each year in the Krishna Basin. He attacked the overt communal tack of the Congress government in favouring certain minorities while highlighting the secular character of his own government in 2009. The work by the Congress government was labelled as of all show and no substance, targeting the advertising overdrive that Siddaramaiah is on presently.
The biggest relief, however, was the lack of support on the ground for the Lingayat separate religion movement across all the districts of the region. The party managed to successfully call out the issue as being a political game started by the Congress. The Lingayat community was still steadfast with the BJP.
Yeddyurappa did put on a very impressive show in the region, talking to the crowds with a renewed vigour. He was making bold statements regarding local demands and took the Congress head-on. Yeddyurappa openly told that the candidates would be selected not on the whims of his or of any other leaders, but only on the basis of winnability. Dissidents and opportunists were warned of strict actions for any activities against the interests of the party. He preferred to look at the multiple ticket aspirants on many seats as an endorsement to the BJP’s upbeat prospects.
There was another shift in narrative that many pundits missed out on. The Congress was rattled by the BJP's yatre. The Congressmen started to see signs of their power eroding. This phase prompted Siddaramaiah, who had pretended to be oblivious until then, to start responding to the assertions made by Yeddyurappa in his speeches. He even tried to put together a hastily planned yatra on the lines of the BJP, only to discover that he was stepping on the toes of Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president Dr Parameshwara, who used to and continues to eye the chief minister's chair. This also tipped over many skeletons from the Congress cabins, with the leaders in the party publicly bickering. As a compromise, three yatras were decided upon, each with a different objective under the stewardship of different leaders. None seemed to have taken off and the Congress cadre have been left confused.
With the yatre exiting Mumbai Karnataka to enter the Hyderabad Karnataka region, its similarity with the Parivartan Yatra undertaken by the BJP in Uttar Pradesh is evident. The media had focussed on the ancillary slip-ups, the incumbent was arrogantly sure of his stature and the BJP was mocked as a non-entity. However, the yatra then had seen the up-swell in the momentum for BJP on the ground. We are seeing the same here for the party in Karnataka. A wave is building up which could very well sweep the BJP to power in 2018.
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