Karnataka Assembly elections | BJP, Congress and JD(S) all fight to retain support base

As all three parties, BJP, Congress and the JD(S) harking more or less back to base, it promises to be an interesting election, but the question is will it be transformative. 

April 28, 2023 03:52 pm | Updated 06:59 pm IST - BENGALURU/MYSURU

JD(S) leader Kumaraswamy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.

JD(S) leader Kumaraswamy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.

Karnataka Assembly elections this time around were, according to rhetoric, supposed to be transformative. These polls were to make the BJP go beyond the Lingayat vote, the Congress beyond the Vokkaliga and Ahinda base and the Janata Dal (S) beyond its pocketbrorough of Hassan and Mandya. Just two weeks ahead of results, however, each party is fighting to retain its traditional support base, dreams of expansion put on hold as parties fight a rearguard action. 

Let us first look at the ruling party, the BJP. These were the polls that the BJP was depending on to do a Gujarat in Karnataka, that is, phase out a generation of leaders and an overwhelming dependence on just one big caste group, the Lingayats. The BJP gave 47 tickets to the Vokkaliga community, and 37 to Scheduled Castes, two more seats than are reserved for SCs. The BJP also tied up with independent MP Sumalatha Ambareesh in Mandya, Old Mysore, the home of Vokkaliga domination and a place where the BJP hardly gets traction. 

But as senior Lingayat leaders like Jagadish Shettar and Laxman Savadi rebelled and crossed over to other parties, the party faced the prospect of the Lingayat community, if not voting against the BJP then at least being less than enthusiastic, a situation where the Congress would gain considerably. 

On Tuesday morning therefore, former chief minister B S Yediyurappa got an urgent call from the party high command to direct some of his firepower at Hubbali where Mr Shettar is now the Congress candidate taking on the BJP. And while it could well be as BJP national president J P Nadda said in an interview to The Hindu, that rebels from the BJP rarely fare well in other parties, Mr Yediyurappa spent considerable time firefighting. A lot of the campaigning fire power is also directed at North Karnataka, where the Lingayat community holds sway, and upset at Mr Yediyurappa’s removal as chief minister and the rebellions of senior leaders, is holding its cards close to its chest. 

This should be good news for the Congress, who, initially did much to capitalize on the BJP’s troubles by inducting both Mr Shettar and Mr Savadi, and giving out a message that the ill will between the Congress and the Lingayat community, on since the 1991 removal of Veerendra Patil from the chief minister’s seat was past. The Congress has given 51 seats to Lingayat candidates, and claim that if the Lingayat community even shifts 20% to its corner, it can get a majority in the Assembly. 

But the announcement of a reservation policy by the B S Bommai government of sub-division within the quota for Scheduled Castes, an issue that was hanging fire for long, has awakened the Congress to the possibility that the BJP may yet salami slice the SC bloc as it did in Uttar Pradesh hurting the Congress the most. The Congress is therefore announcing that it would roll back the reservation policy and try and bring up the total reservation tranche from 50% to 75%. A fiery campaign spell by Congress national president Mallikarjun Kharge, who has deep support among SC communities and by former chief minister Siddaramaiah is aimed at safeguarding the Congress’ base. 

For the Janata Dal (S), this is a make or break election, with the Gowda family patriarch and former prime minister H D Deve Gowda possibly fighting his last election. The JD(S) poached and welcomed rebels from other parties, putting up at least 28 of its 212 candidates in this way. Former chief minister H D Kumaraswamy also gave statements designed to prod the faultlines between the Lingayat and Brahmin community by stating that the removal of Mr Yeddyurappa was done to ultimately usher in a “Peshwai” rule, that is of Marathi Brahmin descent, a direct reference to Union minister Pralhad Joshi. While this was being stirred up, a family dispute over the prestigious Hassan seat, a pocketborough of the Gowda family cropped up with Bhavani Revanna, wife of former minister H D Revanna, brother to Mr Kumaraswamy asking for the Hassan seat. Mr Kumaraswamy put his foot down, and nominated H P Swaroop, a close aide. The family feud has been quietened down perhaps to be taken up once polls are done, but it has prompted Mr H D Deve Gowda to attempt campaigning in Hassan in his ninetieth year, a display of a doughty spirit but also a worried heart. 

As all three parties, BJP, Congress and the JD(S) harking more or less back to base, it promises to be an interesting election, but the question is will it be transformative. 

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