BJP is between a rock and hard place in Karnatakahe by-election results in Karnataka come as no surprise to astute political observers. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was soundly defeated in Gundlupet and by a bigger than expected margin in Nanjangud. Riding high on the aftermath of UP wave and to strengthen Mr Yeddyurappa’s hand in the upcoming assembly election, BJP made it a prestige battle and pulled up every trick in electoral politics to upend the Congress party in both constituencies. The defeat exposed two obvious shortcomings of BJP in the state- organizational weakness in Old Mysore region and more importantly, the bankruptcy of current leadership.
Congress, on the other hand, played it safe with its choice of candidates and strategy.
Gundlupet election was necessitated by the death of sitting MLA while Nanjangud was imposed on the people by Mr Srinivas Prasad who switched parties after being dropped from the state cabinet. Portrayed as a strong Dalit leader, the sixty-nine-year-old came knocking on the doors of the BJP to avenge what he called the humiliation of himself and Dalit community by the Congress party. BJP too wanting to fill the void of a lack of a tall Dalit leader in the party welcomed him with open arms. Acknowledging its weakness in the Old Mysore Region, it opened its doors to another disgruntled aged Congress leader, Mr S M Krishna. The former Chief Minister who is 86 years old and a Vokkaliga could have gracefully retired from politics after having enjoyed a successful stint with the Congress party for almost four decades. Instead, for some strange reason, he too decided to switch parties and join the BJP just before the by-elections.
To join two disgruntled Congress leaders in the campaign was BJP State President Mr Yeddyurappa who himself was a rebel only a few years ago. Promising to “destroy BJP in Karnataka”, he founded the Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP) just before the 2013 assembly election after having been unceremoniously asked to resign as the state Chief Minister by BJP High Command following corruption charges. Returning to the BJP before 2014 parliament election and anointed State President of the party in 2016, Mr Yeddyurappa viewed the by-election as an opportunity to strengthen his hands before the next assembly election. More importantly, he was extremely confident that he could deliver victory for the BJP since both constituencies have a large chunk of the Lingayat population of which he is perceived as an undisputed leader.ongress, on the other hand, played it safe with its choice of candidates and strategy. To cash in on the sympathy wave, it recruited Mrs Geetha Mahadev Prasad, wife of the expired leader, to its fold and made her the candidate in Gundlupet. It could not find a strong candidate from its own fold to fight the battle in Nanjangud. Hence it wooed JD(S) candidate from last election Mr Kalele Keshavmurthy who has a huge following of his own in the constituency. Adding to the woes of the BJP was the absence of JD(S). The party decided not contest the by-elections citing lack of money and the assembly election just a few months away. Whether there was a tacit understanding between the Congress and JD(S) as alleged by the BJP after its loss is hard to decipher.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah are “between a rock and hard place” in Karnataka.
Thus, the high decibel campaign for BJP was led by three old, aged and jaded leaders- a BJP rebel who returned to its fold and two exasperated Congress leaders. Moreover, they turned the election campaign about personalities and caste rather than the usual BJP narrative of development. All three had a common enemy in the sitting Congress Chief Minister – Mr Siddaramiah and a common goal – to defeat the Congress in order to showcase their strength. Mr Srinivas Prasad portrayed the Chief Minister as anti-dalit for dropping him from the Cabinet. Mr Yeddyurappa who is aspiring to become the next Chief Minister made several personal attacks on Mr Siddaramiah to discredit him. And Mr S M Krishna, who Mr. Siddaramiah chose to ignore both during cabinet formation and while deciding on policies, wanted to teach the Congress party and the current Chief Minister a lesson for sidelining him.
Congress fielded its entire cabinet during a three-week campaign. Being the governing party, it could make credible future promises to voters. Also, it shunned personal attacks and completely avoided taking potshots at the Prime Minister and BJP’s President. Thus, the Congress party ended victoriously in both constituencies.or Karnataka BJP, the writing on the wall is clear – its current leadership is old, jaded, lacks credibility, adept only in caste politics and deficient in new politics that the Prime Minister says is the desire of youth in India. Mr Yeddyurappa lacks credibility even amongst his own community, Lingayats, who have lost faith in him for letting them down during his three-year stint as Chief Minister. Mr Sadananda Gowda, a leader from another major community, was also a failure both as Chief Minister and Railway Minister. Mr Jagadish Shettar was a non-performer during his stint as Chief Minister while Mr Ananth Kumar, a Brahmin and a Central Minister, does not possess great political leadership skills. Current second line leadership too is much discredited.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah are “between a rock and hard place” in Karnataka. Risk replacing current leadership now, face a possible rebellion before assembly election but a strong and new leadership can emerge in time for 2019 parliament election. Continue with current leadership and risk chances of getting a much lower number both in upcoming assembly and parliament elections. People of Karnataka await with bated breath the decision of BJP Central leadership.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.