While the BJP government was built on borrowed support from independents and Opposition, the 2013 polls will reveal its true strength

Hit by infighting and a three-way split, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which came to power for the first time in Karnataka by riding on a sympathy wave in 2008, is now fighting for survival. It appears that the BJP’s best case scenario is a sizeable tally that could help them forge a post-poll alliance to form the government and checkmate the Congress.

The BJP’s confidence in recent times has been boosted by a new-found camaraderie among the top leaders. Ticket distribution was smooth, and discontentment in Congress over candidate selection has given some hope to the saffron party.

The three-way split is hurting though. While the architect of its victory in 2008 and former chief minister B. S. Yeddyurappa has severed his links with the party and become the state president of the Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP), its former minister and key member of the influential Bellary Reddy Brothers group, B. Sriramulu, has quit to float his own political outfit – the BSR Congress.

The impact of the split was felt in the urban local bodies in which the BJP bagged only half the seats that Congress did. The Janata Dal (S) equalled the BJP’s performance.

The BJP came to power promising stability and good governance, but failed to deliver them because of infighting. Factional feuds brought the government to its knees, precipitating at least 10 crisis situations.

The government has seen three chief ministers, which took a toll on administrative efficiency.

The troubles started quite early. In a show of blatant political quid pro quo, the party had to stake out support from five independents to form the government, and in exchange made them ministers. Opposition MLAs were also lured to beef up the government’s numerical strength but had to be placated with ministerial berths and board chairmanships. This strategy – known as Operation Lotus – created a sub-group in the BJP government that was not wedded to its ideology.

Loyal party workers were put off, as nearly half of those wielding power were non-BJP members.

It is mostly these MLAs coming from other parties who formed the support base for Mr. Yeddyurappa who was asked to quit as chief minister after he was indicted by the Karnataka Lokayukta’s report on illegal mining. Most of these MLAs have followed him to the KJP.

Bolt from Bellary

Another factor that affected the party’s image was its dependence on the mine-owning Reddy brothers from Bellary and allowing them to call shots in the party. The party is embarrassed as the long arm of the law has caught up with the Reddy brothers for cases related to large-scale illegal mining and looting of mineral wealth.

Amidst these, several of the BJP’s ministers and MLAs were involved in cases related to corruption, land scams and scandals like allegedly watching porn clips in the Assembly.

Putting on a brave face, the BJP is now projecting itself as an organization that has been cleansed by the quitting of “tainted” personalities who were facing serious charges.

It has declared Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar, a Lingayat leader hailing from North Karnataka, as its chief ministerial candidate – part of the strategy to shore up its support among the dominant Lingayat caste.

The party managed to prevent prominent members of the Yeddyurappa camp in the ministry – Umesh Katti, Murugesh Nirani, Basavaraj Bommai and V. Somanna -- from joining the KJP. Trying to build further on this, the BJP is focusing its attention on three areas of Bangalore, Belgaum and Dakshina Kannada, which together account for nearly 25 per cent of the total 224 assembly seats going to polls.

As these assembly elections are expected to set the trend for the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections, a full team of the BJP central leaders including L. K. Advani, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj are campaigning for the party in Karnataka.

The 2013 polls will bring out the true strength of the BJP in the state after the party’s efforts to artificially boost its political strength by inducing defections from other parties boomeranged.

Central leaders visit Karnataka

The Central leaders of both the ruling BJP and the Congress are camping in Karnataka to campaign for their parties for the ensuing Assembly elections scheduled on May 5. Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Manmohan Singh addressed public meetings in different parts of the State in the last one week for the Congress. The BJP roped in Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to address a public meeting in Bangalore. Its veteran leader L. K. Advani, National President Rajnath Singh, Leaders of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, former national presidents M. Venkaiah Naidu and Nitin Gadkari, National Vice-president Uma Bharathi have been touring in different areas allocated to them to woo voters. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivaraj Singh Chauhan and Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parikkar are touring the State on May 1 for campaigning.

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