Fielding Jaishankar From Karnataka Would Be A Good Bet For The BJP

Sharan Setty

Mar 05, 2024, 04:22 PM | Updated 04:22 PM IST

External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar may be fielded from Karnataka this time.
External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar may be fielded from Karnataka this time.

A thick rumour has been making the rounds in Karnataka that External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar may be asked to contest from the state this time.

With the 2024 general elections weeks away, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is reportedly planning to field Union ministers from states like Karnataka. During the 2014 elections, senior BJP leaders like late Arun Jaitley contested the polls, albeit unsuccessfully.

Many ministers in the past have taken the Rajya Sabha route, and have either shied away from contesting the polls or have failed to win.

For a year, many union ministers, Jaishankar included, have been reportedly scouting for suitable seats to contest from. Speculation has been making the rounds that Jaishankar's frequent visits to Karnataka may be an indication of what's to come.

During his visit to Bengaluru, he spent time at Lalbagh, visited VV Puram's food street and has been active in reaching out to his American counterparts to set up a consulate in the city.

Just a few days ago, he visited Belagavi's Chikkodi and shared his memories of the place when he visited on work. He mentioned that his grandparents also lived in Bengaluru and that he remembers visiting Dharwad.

Of course, all this can be called a simple coincidence and nothing more, but there is a strong possibility that Jaishankar may be asked to contest from the state. Even Union Minister Prahlad Joshi slipped in a mention recently at a presser in Karnataka.

And why not? Foreign affairs and national security are gaining more space as an electoral issue. During the previous polls, the surgical strikes India conducted across the Line of Control in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir became a talking point.

Jaishankar's popularity has shot up with his witty one-liners, strong rebuttals and a good command of English (among other languages).

Jaishankar is also, arguably, one of the most popular ministers in the Narendra Modi cabinet.

The External Affairs Minister has been capturing the imagination of the young voters in the country. He is not just a part of the present government but has gained credence as the go-to man for any response against an unfriendly government.

He is known for giving it back to the condescending Europeans or the sanctimonious Americans who dares lecture India. He rescues people stuck overseas, is a favourite among think-tankers and the college-going crowd in India.

He has most certainly broken the glass ceiling set by identity politics in India. And precisely for that reason, the people of Karnataka will also welcome Jaishankar, even if his political opponents criticise his candidature. Jaishankar contesting from Karnataka will create enthusiasm among the ground cadre.

Sure, there will always be a certain amount of disgruntlement among upset aspirants, but that is a part of the process. There is a good chance for this government and its ministers to prove their electoral efficiency, instead of opting for the safe route through Rajya Sabha. This will not just show the mandate for Prime Minister Modi, but his 'parivar' too.

The party may consider Chikkodi, Belagavi, Uttara Kannada or Bengaluru South for Jaishankar to contest. However, the Bengaluru South seems unlikely because of two reasons.

One, Tejasvi Surya has strengthened his ground in the constituency.

Two, just because the minister made a few visits does not mean that the constituency is being prepared for him to contest. While Jaishankar has multiple options to choose from, there may not be a lot for Surya. He has to be fielded from Bengaluru South for a comfortable victory.

With the BJP more confident this time, and there being a strong possibility of a 'wave' election, the party is more confident of passing the winnability criteria. These are relatively safe seats for the BJP. Jaishankar's candidature will introduce enthusiasm among the cadre and will be a refreshing change. BJP should consider fielding him.

In the past, several leaders from the north of India have contested from Karnataka. This includes Indira Gandhi from Chikkamagaluru who contested the 1978 by-elections in the aftermath of the emergency. Sonia Gandhi and Sushma Swaraj battled it out from Ballari in 2004. Apart from that, Karnataka has had a history of accommodating leaders from outside the regional fold.

Mizoram-born Indian Police Service officer H T Sangliana, for instance, won the 2004 Lok Sabha elections from Bengaluru North. He gained immense fame when he hunted down rowdy-sheeters in the city. Before IPS officers like K Annamalai became popular in the state, people like Sangliana set a precedent for many to follow.

No candidates have been announced from Karnataka yet. Union Home Minister Amit Shah and party chief J P Nadda have visited the state to discuss the plans ahead of the elections. Since it is a consultative process between several camps, there is a chance that the ticket distribution may spring some surprises this time.

This can also shrug off any anti-incumbency that exists among the sitting MPs. Nalin Kumar Kateel, Ananth Kumar Hegde, Sobha Karandlaje, some of the senior leaders in BJP Karnataka (also happen to be MPs at the moment) are facing anti-incumbency, health issues, unpopularity among other challenges. A few sitting MPs may likely be dropped, and new faces may get a chance this time.

The Congress cannot oppose their candidature because of any 'local' quota. They have fielded leaders from other states in Karnataka. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi himself contested the polls from Wayanad in Kerala.

Priyanka Gandhi is reportedly considering Koppal in Karnataka to contest this time. There cannot be any grounds on which the Congress can oppose Jaishankar's candidature. Not that it will make any difference, at least.

What will the Congress excuse be this time? South-South divide because a 'Tamilian' is contesting from Karnataka? They are laughably predictable.

Jaishankar has Tamil roots, but was born and raised in Delhi, and can speak multiple languages fluently. That should be enough for him to contest from anywhere he wishes. He will truly break the glass ceiling this time, by putting identity politics on the back burner.

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

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