The BJP is facing a stiff challenge from Congress in the upcoming Karnataka election, but is also trying to shore up support for itself by depending on recent entrants into the party from rival ones.
While the meta narratives of the election revolve around the appeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the record of the Basavaraj Bommai government, and the wooing of the significant Lingayat vote, some micro narratives revolve around leaders who were outsiders to the party till recently.
Sumalatha Ambareesh and the Old Mysore challenge
The Old Mysore area in Karnataka is considered the Vokkaliga belt in the State, where, traditionally, the contest has been between the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular). Independent MP Sumalatha Ambareesh, wife of late film star and Congress MP Ambareesh, received support from the BJP in the 2019 elections, and was victorious. Belonging to the Vokkaliga community and popular with it, the BJP was keen that before the Assembly polls, Ms. Ambareesh would join the party. That didn’t happen, but Ms. Ambareesh did say that she would be supportive of the BJP’s efforts in the area. According to senior sources, the BJP is hopeful that her support may have an effect in at least three to four seats in the area.
Bengaluru has 28 Assembly seats and the BJP had won 12 in the Assembly election held in 2018. In 2019, large-scale defection (17 MLAs) took place, from the Congress and JD(S) ranks to the BJP, and while the MLAs were disqualified, most contested bypolls on BJP tickets and managed to win their seats. In Bengaluru alone, four Congress MLAs and one from JD(S) joined the BJP, winning their seats and taking the BJP’s tally to 16 out of 28 seats. MLAs S.T. Somashekar, Byrathi Basavaraj, Munirathna, K. Gopalaiah and M.T.B. Nagaraj (who lost the byelection but was made an MLC) are still with the BJP and the party hopes they will help the BJP retain its hold in the city. “Bengaluru forms a large chunk of seats and if we manage to retain our hold, it will help,” said a source in the BJP.
Ramesh Jarkiholi and Belagavi
Belagavi district is extermely significant in the battle for Karnataka, as it has 18 Assembly seats and a significant Lingayat presence. What makes the battle here interesting is that the BJP, recipient of support from the Lingayat community here, is also projecting Ramesh Jarkiholi, a former Congressman who also crossed over to the BJP and who belongs to the Valmiki Nayaka community of Scheduled Tribes. He is not exactly popular with the Lingayat community. He is influential in the area though, but local BJP leaders have raised complaints against him with the party’s high command including with Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
Mr. Jarkiholi’s long-running feud with Laxmi Hebbalkar, an MLA belonging to the Lingayat community has not helped his case with the local unit of the BJP. Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, BJP in-charge for election in Karnataka, gave party leaders a patient hearing, but, significantly, has not taken any action to rein in Mr. Jarkiholi. Clearly, the party hopes that older leaders in BJP will stick to discipline and Mr. Jarkiholi could rescue the party’s fortunes in Belagavi.
To shore up its numbers in the Karnataka Assembly and form the government, the BJP undertook a massive poaching exercise and as the 2023 election comes around, some of these outsiders are being relied on to beat the logic of anti-incumbency.