Advantage BJP, for now

The May 12 Karnataka Assembly election is crucial for both the BJP and the Congress. For the BJP, to sustain the NaMo wave, make the “Congress-Mukt Bharat” slogan a reality and strengthen its prospects for the 2019 Lok Sabha election, this election assumes political significance.

For the Congress, if it is to achieve its political goals of ending the NaMo wave, projecting itself as a viable alternative to the Modi-led BJP in 2019 and convey to the nation that Rahul Gandhi is an asset rather than a liability, this election will make all the difference.

At this point in time, the BJP appears to have an advantage in Karnataka, due to the NaMo factor, the zealous RSS cadres and BJP workers under party president Amit Shah’s leadership, who have together scored a string of BJP successes in several state elections. Similarly, the Karnataka BJP leadership hopes that the NaMo wave will help them sail through in the state.

The BJP has reached out to different caste-based mutts and organisations. The party has glossed over the differences between its chief ministerial candidate B S Yeddurappa and his party rival K S Eshwarappa for the moment and plans to capitalise on the anti-incumbency factor facing the Siddaramaiah government.

That no incumbent government since 1983 has returned to power in the state augurs well for the BJP. Yet, despite a possible tide in favour of the BJP, it is not going to be a cakewalk for the party, which is confronted with many hurdles in its bid to taste a second electoral victory in
Karnataka.

The NaMo wave, which worked effectively in several successive state assembly elections, failed in Delhi and Bihar, while Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state, was a close shave.

The fact that the BJP lost the recent by-elections (Lok Sabha) in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh indicate that the party’s momentum has waned over the last four years. Apart from the Congress and JD(S), the Bahujan Samaj Party and Nationalist Congress Party, which are politically poised against the BJP, there are several activists and critics, such as the centurion freedom fighter and activist H S Doreswamy, film actor Prakash Raj and Dalit activist and Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani, who are urging the people to halt the NaMo wave in Karnataka.

Thus, what strategy the BJP would adopt to counter such stiff opposition and sustain the Modi wave remains to be seen.

Although Amit Shah and other BJP leaders give an impression that differences between Yeddurappa and Eshwarappa have been resolved, it remains to be seen how long they can stay united, given that their conflict is in the public glare.

Also, the BJP is facing the heat for giving tickets to those who switched from the Congress and the JD (S), rather than to its loyal party workers. Although this is a common problem that plagues all parties after declaration of party tickets, the BJP cannot take this lightly. The possibility remains that those disappointed ticket aspirants would work against the party, which will hamper its success. Moreover, the April 2017 by-election in the state exposed the BJP’s capability in taking on the Siddaramaiah government. For the BJP, therefore, to put up a united front will be a priority task.

Despite the anti-incumbency that Siddaramaiah faces, to challenge the ‘Siddhu factor’ will not be easy. Siddaramiah has been active since a couple of years on social media and successfully projects his government’s achievements both in print and mass media. He unveiled the Karnataka flag, strongly opposed the use of Hindi language in Namma Metro, made Kannada compulsory in all schools, introduced populist schemes like Indira Canteen and the various ‘Bhagya’ schemes — Anna, Aarogya, Anila, Ksheera Bhagya, among others.

Siddaramaiah has also sustained the Congress strategy to appease Dalits and minorities. More importantly, his cabinet has granted separate religious minority status to Lingayats, which has partially hit the BJP’s core vote bank.Moreover, the Congress has successfully exposed the BJP’s failure to resolve the Mahadayi river water dispute. Whether Siddaramaiah’s calculations and strategies would eventually translate into votes, the ‘Siddhu factor‘ has certainly pushed the BJP on to the back foot, at least for now.

Although the JD(S) aspires to play the role of kingmaker in a hung assembly, rather than form the government on its own, due to several limitations, the BJP has to take on the Congress and JD(S) on an equal footing. The JD(S) attempts to capitalise on its core vote bank, the anti-incumbency factor against Siddaramaiah and the developing anti-NaMo tide as well as the BJP’s poor performance in Karnataka in 2008-2013.

Moreover, the JD(S) has made a smart move to ally with the BSP. In the 2013 elections, many JD(S) candidates lost by narrow margins, which they could have avoided had they allied with the BSP. Former chief minister HD Kumaraswamy’s appeal to the people — “give me one more chance” — counters the narrative that the JD(S) has shrunk in its strongholds of Kolar and Mysuru region.

Hence, the BJP needs to counter the JD(S) to ensure that there is no hung assembly and save itself from having to depend on the latter to form a government.

In the present circumstances, the BJP could well form the government with a simple majority if the NaMo factor works for it and Siddaramaiah is stung by anti-incumbency, as well as considering that voters do not favour a hung assembly. If that happens, then the Congress and JD(S) will need to rework their strategies to challenge the BJP juggernaut in 2019.

(The writer is assistant professor, Department of Political Science, Bangalore University, Bengaluru)

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