Caste engineering lessons takeaway for Cong, BJP

National parties experiment caste equation in recently concluded bypolls

Taking cue from BJP’s landslide victory in Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, both the national political parties (Congress and the BJP) in Karnataka are planning to further strengthen the caste divide.

After experimenting in the byelection in Nanjangud and Gundlupet Assembly segments, the caste engineering for fighting the elections seems to have come to stay, till it goes to the next level.

The Congress, which was not so confident when the elections were announced, went on to win both the constituencies by sheer planning and effective execution, while the BJP, which was beaming with confidence, as it began canvassing much earlier, had to be satisfied with an increase in its vote share.

The election in the two constituencies was a semi-final before the 2018 Assembly polls as the Congress and the BJP had the time and resources to experiment electioneering. One significant feature of the bypolls, because a host of state-level leaders had descended in hordes on the constituencies, was that local leaders and party workers were relegated to the background as every process was managed by professionals, who lend services for a fee. Some of the professionals were remotely connected with the parties.

The local leaders and the party workers got a chance to do their mite only after public canvassing ended. And during the last 48 hours leading into the polling day, local leaders of one particular party did their part of the work efficiently, to ensure victory. While one party was complaining about poll malpractices, the other was marching towards victory, undeterred, true to the saying ‘Everything is fair in love and war’.

In the bypolls, both the parties roped in at least a few leaders, who have a mass appeal, but they too were restricted to canvassing in only certain pockets, where their community people were in good numbers. Thus, both parties tried to encash only the caste factor of the ‘mass’ leaders. Leaders of almost all castes and faiths, depending on the vote shares, were assigned the task. The visits and programmes of each and every leader was well-engineered and they were made to just play their part, as per the ‘script’.

Yeddyurappa tried to garner his own Veerashaiva community votes, besides the votes of the Dalits with the induction of former minister V Srinivas Prasad. Siddaramaiah, who is depicted as the champion of other backward communities, was intentionally projected as doing a lot of things for the dominant communities, mainly for Vokkaligas.

Even though it all started as a fight between Srinivas Prasad and Siddaramaiah, as it followed the rebellion of the former minister, who sought re-election from the Nanjangud reserved constituency, it later turned out to be an acid test for Siddaramaiah and former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa. Gundlupet bypolls was inevitable due to the demise of H S Mahadev Prasad.

While Yeddyurappa wanted to prove that he is the boss in the Karnataka BJP and took it all upon him, Siddaramaiah delegated the responsibility to Public Works Minister Dr H C Mahadevappa in Nanjangud and Energy Minister D K Shivakumar in Gundlupet. He only wanted results and that was done.

Siddaramaiah also played a different ball game. Contrary to his spontaneous and arrogant behaviour, he exhibited calm and did not utter a word against either Srinivas Prasad, who was most of the times provoking, or Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He also downplayed the allegations levelled by Yeddyurappa and other BJP leaders.

The bypolls provided an opportunity for both the parties to review and restructure their strategies for the 2018 polls. But, they depend on the political development expected to unravel over the next one year. Meanwhile, the JD(S) is spinning its own strategy.

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