It has been following a two pronged strategy. One is to make all efforts to consolidate its position in the Northern parts of Karnataka by playing the Lingayat card and at the same, deflect the attack with regards to corruption and bad governance by putting the entire blame on Yeddiyurappa who as the first BJP Chief Minister of the southern State who squandered the opportunity to showcase the potential and achievements of the state in various fields and instead, turned the government as his personal fiefdom.
Now, it has unleashed the Modi card to drum up support for the fledgling party which is facing a huge anti- incumbency and internal bickering. Modi’s speech in Bangalore on 28th April was a smash–hit and that has emboldened him to return to Hubli-Dharwad region once again on May 2 to salvage the saffron pride. However, the BJP has to remind itself that in the last assembly poll in 2008 when BJP managed to come to power for the first time in the southern state, Modi had toured a very few places but the party did not sweep those areas. This time around, Modi and the BJP in Karnataka are in sharply contrasting positions – he seems to be on the ascendancy while the party in the state is on a downhill journey. Modi did not say a word about Yeddiyurappa in his Bangalore speech and instead, he kept attacking the Congress party. He was equally evasive on how the people of Karnataka witnessed unending corruption scandals, dissidence and change of three Chief Ministers and how BJP had been taught a bitter lesson because of excesses by right-wing Hindu activists in its stronghold coastal areas in the recently held ULB polls .
Historically, the coastal Karnataka belt has been having the RSS connections linkages since late 1960s itself. However, it was the resurgence of Hindutva wave in the 1990s that brought BJP forward as a formidable political party in Karnataka. In 1993 elections, BJP had managed to win 18 seats. However, it was in 1994 that the NJP put its weight behind RK Hegde’s Lok Shakti and it was in 1999 assembly polls that the BJP increased its vote share to 20 percent by winning 44 Assembly seats. From being the party of urban Bramhins and Banias, the BJP started increasing its clout after the arrival of Yeddiyurappa on the scene who galvanized his Lingayat community to rally behind him in the next assembly polls. Another factor which pushed the powerful Lingayat community into the BJP lap was the unceremonious removal of Virendra Patil by Rajiv Gandhi in 1990 and the majority of Lingayats have not yet forgiven the Congress party for that affront. The BJP won 79 seats in the 2004 Assembly polls.
The turn of events before 2008 Assembly polls went in favour of BJP as Yeddyurappa portrayed the JD(S) betrayal as an insult to consolidate the votes of the Lingayats and other castes to bring the BJP to power.Apart from winning 77 percent of the Lingayat votes in 2008, the BJP, through 20 years of communal polarisation, reaped rich rewards by gaining the votes of Billavas, Idigas and Bunts, the three main communities in the coastal belt. The BJP came to power by winning 110 seats. In addition, in the mining belt of Bellary, traditionally considered a Congress bastion, the BJP made inroads due to the backing of mining baron G Janardhana Reddy and his business partner B Sriramulu, who belongs to the Valmiki community of Dalits. Yeddiyurappa’s exit from the BJP is definitely going to affect BJP’s chances to a great extent in this round of elections. That was amply shown in the recently held ULB polls when it lost the recent municipal council polls to the Congress. In Udupi, which was the first local body won by the Jan Sangh in the country, the BJP lost to the Congress after 40 years. Recent surveys have shown that 45 percent of Bunts and 38 percent Billavas prefer the Congress to the BJP.
The BJP is now facing the Assembly election without any major caste/ community in its kitty. Due to the loss of support, mining money and important leaders in its fold, the first BJP government in the south is expected to plummet. The party changed two Chief Ministers including DV Sadananda Gowda and Jagdish Shettar to salvage the situation. While the party’s third chief minister in the state Jagadish Shettar enjoys a clean image, he is saddled with several ministers, including two deputy chief ministers, K.S. Eshwarappa and R. Ashoka, fighting corruption and cases of illegal land deals. Moreover, other issues like Congress practicing vote-bank politics and its inability to curb terrorism have been flogged so often by BJP that they no longer impress the voters. The State BJP knows that Yeddiyurappa’s relentless campaign that”is a victim of conspiracy by a section of state and central BJP leaders” is certainly going to damage its electoral prospects as according to a few surveys, he still enjoys the support of at least 50 percent Lingayat voters and that means a lot,
It is here that the BJP has embarked upon the projecting Shettar as a leader with clean image who was still doing so much for the people of North Karnataka which has remained by and large neglected by the leaders of Old Mysore who were at the helm of affairs. That plank may attract voters of North Karnataka to vote for the BJP.
Secondly, Shettar also appears to have succeeded in appeasing a few senior congress leaders like HK Patil and Hindusgeri to ensure that there is less collateral damage in his own pocket borough. That was quite visible when the Congress party put up a light weight candidate against Shetter in place of Shiva Naik who could have given a sleepless night to the Chief Minister.
The second part of the BJP starer is to make the best use of “NAMO mantra. Given that there is a fair amount of sprinkling of Gujarati community in North Karnataka, Modi magic is likely to work in that area in a more effective way than in Bangalore or Mysore. That means, Karnataka could be vertically divided into three pieces. The northern Karnataka would still give a fairly large amount of seats to BJP while there would be even distribution in the central and Malnaad region of Karnataka and the JD(S) would have an upper hand in most parts of the Old Mysore areas.’
Even by the most conservative estimates, BJP would be able to secure around 55 to 60 seats. KJP may damage BJP candidates chances in not less than 60 plus seats but it does not have either candidates or wherewithal to win more than 15 seats on its own.
However, the biggest casualty of the whole political brinkmanship would be the Congress party which appears to have shot in the leg not only by its ticket distribution mess and jumbled election strategy but also because of a lack of vision and understanding of the ground reality.
Former Union Minister SM Krishna has already warned that the Congress would be once again forced to sit in opposition for having squandered a great chance to make a come back. Krishna’s apprehensions may more or less be true because the Congress party may be able to emerge as the single largest party. But it is anyone’s guess if it would ask the help and support of KJP to form the government and even then, it would fall short of numbers because reaching 113 marks would not be so easy.