By Karan Anand
On 22 March, former Karnataka Chief Minister and Union cabinet minister, SM Krishna, joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). A Congress veteran and respected politician in Karnataka, Krishna’s party change has been a show of growing BJP strength. The announcement has also come in the aftermath of the BJP’s win in Uttar Pradesh. This hails the resurgence of the Modi wave.
The BJP will not have it easy
While the Congress government under CM Siddaramaiah’s, has avoided ignominy, it has no striking achievements to boast of. Furthermore, Congress has been dented by desertions other than that of Krishna. Former State Minister Kumara Bangarappa and former MP Jayaprakash Hegde both joined the BJP. Oddly enough, Karnataka is also the only South Indian state where the BJP has held office and the saffron party’s growing popularity seems inevitable.
But recent political developments suggest that the battle won’t be so straightforward for the BJP. Infighting among BJP members and the Congress’s unexpected victory in the by-polls has stalled BJP hopes for a cakewalk Assembly Elections next year.
Internal battles—A polarised leadership
Battles within the BJP are playing out between the incumbent state party President BS Yeddyurappa and the former President KS Eshwarappa. The tensions between the two escalated last year when Eshwarappa launched the ‘Sangolli Rayanna Brigade,’ an organisation dedicated to working for the oppressed and backward communities. Yeddyurappa hails from the Lingayat caste, members of which comprise 17% of Karnataka’s population. The community ranks high in the caste hierarchy and is often at loggerheads with the other backward castes. The Sangolli Rayanna Brigade appear to threaten Yeddyurappa’s Lingayat vote bank.
After the defeat in the by-polls, Eshwarappa openly questioned Yeddyurappa’s leadership. Yeddyurappa, in turn, accused Eshwarappa of anti-party activities and warned him of disciplinary action. The evident disharmony between the party’s two senior most leaders is worrying for the party. Already, talks have begun within the party to look for alternatives to Yeddyurappa as the potential CM candidate.
Does the Congress have an upper hand?
The Congress party surprised everyone by sweeping the by-elections in Nanjangad and Gundlupet. It had won both the seats in 2013 and this time it managed to increase its margin of victory. The victory will be a big morale booster for CM Siddaramaiah and the grass-root level cadres. Although the four years of Congress rule has not been very impressive, unlike the previous BJP government it has still been stable and free of major scandals.
They initiated the highly subsidised “Indira Canteens” across the state, a reminiscent of Tamil Nadu’s “Amma Canteens”. Their other pro-poor initiative, the ‘free rice distribution programme,’ has been popular among the rural poor. Unlike the BJP, they are also not marred by leadership problems. Siddaramaiah is set to lead their charge in the upcoming polls. The Congress also enjoys the support of the Muslims and the Dalits who comprise 10% and 23% respectively of Karnataka’s population.
The third front
The presence of former PM Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular) further complicates the situation. Even though the Lingayat community mainly supports Yeddyurappa, the Deve Gowda attracts the support of the Vokkaliga community from southern districts of Karnataka. Just like the Lingayats, the Vokkaligas also belong to the upper caste and form 15% of Karnataka’s population. The party is playing the regional card to counter BJP’s nationalist narrative and has roped in various pro-Kannada groups. The lack of a strong regional party’s presence in Karnataka, unlike in other south Indian states, validates their presence.
The party’s CM candidate, HD Kumaraswamy, Deve Gowda’s son, has attacked the Central Government on several occasions for its failure to help Karnataka in water disputes with Tamil Nadu and Goa, over the Cauvery and Mahadayi rivers respectively. Although Janata Dal cannot directly challenge the two national parties, it can easily eat into the vote share of both the parties. They will be hoping to push the state towards a Hung Assembly, where it could ultimately become the kingmaker.
Congress and BJP at loggerheads again
With Yeddyurappa’s resurgence, BJP seemed all set to rule Karnataka once again, but following the recent by-polls their hold on the area did not come out to be as strong as it was believed. Even though 2 seats does not determine the fate of a 224 member Assembly, it does reflect the mood of the people. The growing influence of the JD(S) cannot be pushed under the rug. Talking about the chances of the Congress, James Manor, Emeritus Professor University of London says—
“It is extremely difficult and rare for a government to be re-elected in the State, and the last to do so was in 1985. Voters of the State are very demanding, sophisticated, and even impatient. So, the congress has a decent chance, but one cannot say that it is likely to win.”
Now the BJP needs to learn from its defeat in the by-polls, or else the final result in 2018 will not be any different.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius