A high stake contest

The significance of retaining power in the state lies in the fact that it is BJP’s gateway to Southern part of the country
"The developments have serious political implications both from the BJP as well as the Congress point of view from 2024 Lok Sabha election perspective."
"The developments have serious political implications both from the BJP as well as the Congress point of view from 2024 Lok Sabha election perspective." ANI

Stakes are very high for Congress and even higher for BJP in the ongoing assembly elections in Karnataka. Whether the Congress is able to dethrone the arch-rivals BJP or the latter manages to retain power, the outcome will not only set the tone for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections but will have a direct bearing on the opposition unity and the role that the Congress will or can play in this endeavour.

Rebellion in the Narendra Modi-era BJP was unheard of, but the rumblings that the party is witnessing after announcement of candidates’ lists has blown off this charade to smithereens.

A former chief minister Mr Jagadish Shettar, a prominent Lingayat leader, and an ex-deputy chief minister, Mr Laxman Savadi have led the revolt after denial of mandate. They immediately joined the Congress and were fielded as the party’s candidates.

It is for the first time in the last over eight years that someone challenged the authority of Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi. And that too in the only southern state governed by the BJP. The developments have serious political implications both from the BJP as well as the Congress point of view from 2024 Lok Sabha election perspective.

As it is, BJP was facing a bumpy ride on the issue of handling and, charting out a role for its most popular but controversial leader, former chief minister Mr B S Yeddyurappa. It was after lot of coaxing and cajoling and a seat for his son as a bargaining chip, but not before Home Minister, Mr Amit Shah, usually known for his stiff outlook, breaking bread over breaking bread with Mr Yeddyurappa’s at his Bengaluru residence that an uneasy truce was reached.

But the problems further mounted as the lists of candidates were announced and many senior leaders quitting the party after denial of ticket either to them or their wards. Such a pre-poll scenario which is normally synonymous with Congress and other opposition parties, has threatened to jeopardize the BJP prospects of retaining power. The factional trouble and rebellion of sorts has also adversely impacted the party’s meticulous planning in building a high-profile, high-octane campaign with Mr Modi leading from the front.

Why is it important for the BJP to win Karnataka assembly elections and what would be the fallout if it ends up losing?

The significance of retaining power in the state lies in the fact that it is BJP’s gateway to Southern part of the country with the party still struggling to find its feet in other states of the region- Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Remaining in power in the state will give BJP a foothold in not only retaining or improving its Lok Sabha seat tally in Karnataka but also greater space to maneuver in the neighbouring states in quest of finding new fertile grounds to overcome the saturation factor that it will face in a number of states particularly in the northern and central India.

The significance of Karnataka could be gauged from the fact that during 2019 Lok Sabha polls, out of 130 seats in Southern India, BJP-led NDA had won only 30 out of which BJP accounted for 25 out of 28, alone in the state. It drew a blank in Andhra Pradesh (25 seats), Kerala (20 seats), Tamil Nadu (39 seats) and Telangana (17 seats). That is why feverish efforts were launched by the party managers in these states to get a political foothold by using Karnataka as a launching pad.

What if the party loses the launching pad and that too despite the strong Modi-factor into play? In that event the party will be certainly staring at a further bleak prospect so far as 130 Lok Sabha seats in South India are concerned as this chunk is going to play a crucial role in deciding the next government in Delhi. Losing Karnataka will have its ripple effect in the other parts of the country as well.

A significant move, from the BJP’s point of view, in building up crescendo before the Karnataka assembly elections, was roping in three Congress leaders, two of them dynasts, of least political consequence to join the party. Though none of these leaders belonged to the poll-bound state, their joining BJP seemed to be part of the party strategy to drum-up a pan-south image for itself with an eye on Lok Sabha elections.

The most significant out of the trio is Mr Anil Antony (Kerala) owing to his being the son of veteran Congress leader and former Defence Minister Mr A K Antony. Former Andhra Pradesh chief minister Mr Kiran Reddy, who was catapulted to the CM’s chair by circumstances and having no support base in the state, has been pulled out by BJP out of oblivion. The third catch Mr C R Kesavan’s (Tamil Nadu) claim to fame is his being the great-grandson of Congress veteran of Freedom days era Mr C Rajagopalachari.

The move ostensibly was aimed at creating an enabling atmosphere in the South region more on psychological footing, with a section of the media playing footsie, rather than on the basis of political strength. None of these three characters matter in the politics of their respective states least to influence poll results in favour of BJP in Karnataka.

Apart from Mr Shettar and Mr Savadi, another veteran and self-perceived chief ministerial candidate Mr K S Eshwarappa announced his retirement from active politics rather than directly confronting his party high command in the hope that his son will be fielded in his place. Known for his communal rants Mr Eshwarappa sensing trouble, took an oblique route of adding to the party’s problems by announcing his retirement on the eve of the elections.

The first round focused on announcing lists of party candidates goes to Congress. The party not only took lead in announcing its candidates but so far there has not been much rumblings on this count. A big advantage to Congress is a state leader in Mr Malikarjun Kharge being the party president. The veteran dalit leader’s stature has so far proved handy in smoothly steering the party ahead of the elections.

The big challenge for Congress, which despite an occasional murmur of two chief ministerial hopefuls Mr D K Shivkumar (state Congress chief) and former chief minister Mr C Siddaramaiah rubbing shoulders with each other, comes from Janata Dal (s) led by former Prime Minister H D Devegowda and new entrants such as Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The JD(s) has played a spoilt sport for Congress in the past in the state while AAP has eaten into Congress support base in states such as Delhi, Punjab and Karnataka thereby getting the sobriquet of being a “vote katua” (dividing he votes). 

Normally, due to its deft planning, well-oiled and well-fed machinery portraying a united house led by a strong leadership, the BJP in the last nine years have been taking head-start in every election. However, this pace seemed to have been lost in Karnataka. Will the party’s strong leadership be able to overcome these initial glitches? Much will depend on it though a valuable time and opportunity has been lost.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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