Issue :   
January 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.         January 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:Jan' 2018


Not a cakewalk for BJP

Mamtha Sharma from Bengaluru

The BJP's wins in Gujarat and Himachal assembly elections will inevitably have their impact on the forthcoming polls in Karnataka where the party is determined to wrest control from the ruling Congress. In the hope of adding to the tally of 19 states under its fold, a confident BJP is expected to go all out to regain Karnataka which it had first won in 2008..
Under a resurgent and more confident Rahul Gandhi, however, the Congress would see the two results as encouraging, despite the losses. Even though losing Himachal Pradesh would definitely hurt, the party's overall performance in Gujarat would give it the much needed confidence to try and retain power in Karnataka. The southern state is set to go to polls around May 2018.

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah While in Gujarat, the Congress concentrated more on the alleged failures of the BJP on the demonetisation and GST fronts, apart from seeking to exploit caste differences, its task in Karnataka is cut out. This is because its chief minister, Siddaramaiah, has cleverly set the agenda for the elections. If anything, the BJP is only reacting to it.
Therefore, while the Congress would term the contest in Karnataka as one dominated purely by local issues of development, the BJP would need to think of something more aggressive than the religious issues, minority appeasement and corruption of the ruling party, albeit for a short while.
In fact, its development platform under Narendra Modi which helped the BJP in Gujarat may not gain much traction in Karnataka where the ruling party has been quick to seize on the advantages of its welfare schemes. Importantly, the Congress also has a lot going for it in the form of the divide that it has engineered within the Lingayat community over the issue of minority status to it.

B S Yeddyurappa with BJP President Amit Shah This community, which accounts for a near 17-18 per cent of the state's six crore population, has backed BJP's strongman B S Yeddyurappa in the past. A Lingayat himself, Yeddyurappa showed his power over the community when he indirectly helped the Congress in decimating the BJP in 2013, even if unwittingly, after breaking away from his parent party.
The newly formed Karnataka Janata Paksh under him split the Lingayat votes in 2013 and ultimately helped the Congress bag north Karnataka which the community dominates.
Keeping those developments in mind, Siddaramaiah has now cleverly sought to break the community's unity again this time. He is encouraging the Lingayats to seek a minority status, in the process spooking the Veerashaivas among that community.
Within the community, the latter are closer to the Hindus while the Lingayats are followers of the social reformer Basavanna who did not believe in any idol worship. Siddaramaiah has used his Lingayat minister, M B Patil to do the needful.
A division in the Lingayat vote once again this time, therefore, could spell trouble for the BJP and Yeddyurappa, in particular. It is worthwhile remembering that in 2013 the BJP lost power after it bagged only 40 assembly seats ,thanks to the split caused by the desertion of Yeddyurappa .It must be said that the latter too failed in that his KJP managed only six seats but his objective was realised in that he caused the BJP to lose heavily.

This is not all. The BJP could find it hard to corner Siddaramaiah on another front, especially his narrative on development in the state coupled with a slew of welfare schemes that have been launched .These would give the BJP some tough moments.Welfare schemes like provision of free rice under the Anna Bhagya programme, setting up of Indira canteens which provide subsidised breakfast and meals for under Rs 10 in the IT capital to the poor, coupled with crop loan waiver for the farmers and scholarships for students, would be difficult to beat, at least for the BJP. The success of the Indira Canteens in Bengaluru has allowed Siddaramaiah to plan their expansion across the state now.
Above all, his brazen appeasement of the minorities by celebrating Tipu Jayanti in addition to the demand for a separate state flag ,not to mention the support for Kannada ,the local language over Hindi, have helped Siddaramaiah set the agenda while playing the regional card effectively.
Accordingly, while the Congress would prefer to bank on its achievements in the last five years, as an opposition party, the BJP could at best talk about the alleged murders of right wing activists in the state and the minority appeasement policy of the Siddaramah government. The failure of the Siddaramaiah government to nab the killers of journalist Gauri Lankesh could be another issue on which the BJP might want to dwell on.
Alongside, Karnataka has been lucky for the Congress in that in Siddaramaiah, it has a strong leader. This was something that the party lacked in Gujarat, at least. To that extent, the party would not find it difficult to be aggressive while campaigning for the polls. Despite the friction within the Congress, Siddaramaiah has managed to have full control over it, thanks also to the support he enjoys from Rahul.
In sharp contrast, the BJP in the state is faction ridden. The constant bickering between Eashwarappa and Yeddyrurappa, party's two senior most leaders is not something that the central leadership is unaware of. In fact, Amit Shah had to do some plain talking to force them to mend fences, albeit temporarily.

Tipu Jayanti Yet another problem that the BJP faces in Karnataka relates to Yeddyurappa himself. He had become perhaps the first chief minister in south at least who was forced to resign before being jailed for corruption. Even though he has successfully warded off the charges, the stigma remains, something that the ruling Congress would only be too happy to exploit. In fact, Siddaramaiah has been using this stick to beat Yeddyuppa with every time the latter talks about corruption under Congress rule.
In comparison to Gujarat, therefore, the BJP in Karnataka would have to devise different strategies to counter an aggressive Congress which is banking on its welfare schemes and minority appeasement to breast the tape. Admittedly, Modi's development plank would be difficult for the state voters to ignore, the fact is that 2018 assembly elections would remain local polls. The issue would, therefore, be specific to Karnataka with national issues not getting that much of weight.
For the national issues to gain traction in Karnataka, all the parties would have to wait for the Lok Sabha polls in 2019. In the meanwhile, the BJP may have little choice but to fall back on its charismatic leader,Narendra Modi,to market the party in the state. For the BJP, Modi alone would become the X factor in Karnataka as at 75, Yeddyurappa hardly evokes any confidence even though the party is fighting elections under his leadership.
In the meanwhile though, the two parties have already commenced their campaign, going by the different yatras that they are conducting within the state. Yeddyurappa started one a month ago and is getting a good response in the districts of north Karnataka. Siddaramaiah launched one on 16 December and is ready to claim equal success in terms of the numbers that the party is attracting.
While the yatras in themselves are strategies that are unique to Karnataka, they have proved helpful to both the parties, evidenced by past experience. Whether they prove beneficial this time too, is something that would need to be seen in the coming days.
For now, the Gujarat and Himachal experiences would help the two contending parties draw their own lessons and plans. They would, however, do well to keep in mind that Karnataka has always voted differently all along. This could well force them to redraw their strategies for the forthcoming polls in 2018.