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A divided opposition helps BJP

Chief minister Basavaraj Bommai greets newly elected Rajya Sabha members: Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, actor-politician Jaggesh, and Lehar Singh Siroya, at Vidhana Soudha, in Bengaluru.

Chief minister Basavaraj Bommai greets newly elected Rajya Sabha members: Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, actor-politician Jaggesh, and Lehar Singh Siroya, at Vidhana Soudha, in Bengaluru. | Photo Credit: Murali Kumar K.

The recent polls to four Rajya Sabha seats from Karnataka demonstrated the deep differences between the two opposition parties — the Congress and the JD(S) — which resulted in the ruling BJP winning a seat due to division of votes. Coming less than a year before the Assembly elections, this breakdown between the two parties is being seen as a precursor to the battle for “secular votes” in 2023.

The ego clashes between local Congress and JD(S) leaders nullified the efforts of senior leaders to arrive at a common ground on the candidate. While the Congress argued that it had supported the election of former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda to the Rajya Sabha in 2020, and as quid pro quo, sought the JD(S)’s support this time, the JD(S) asked the Congress to support its candidate to enable both the parties to win one seat each. Both raised secular issues to force the other out of the fray, but neither blinked. Eventually, the BJP won three seats, and the Congress won one. A fuming JD(S) then vowed that it would not get into any understanding in the future with the Congress, a party with which it has formed two coalition governments, albeit short-lived ones, in the past.

For the Congress, which had fielded a Muslim as the second candidate, it became difficult to withdraw from the fray. Its effort to portray the JD(S) as the “B team” of the BJP did not go far since the regional party did not seek the BJP’s support. The JD(S) said the Congress had fielded a Muslim candidate as a “scapegoat” despite knowing that he would not win the election as the party had only 25 votes after casting the ballot for its first candidate, Jairam Ramesh. The Congress, in turn, said that the JD(S) chose not to support a minority candidate who was already in the fray.

The JD(S), which claimed to have lost about 25 seats in the 2018 elections for being branded as the “B team” of the BJP by the Congress, has been attempting to make inroads into the minority vote bank and appointed C.M. Ibrahim as the state president. The regional party claims to have emerged stronger than expected since only two of its legislators cross voted in the Rajya Sabha, against the popular perception that there is large-scale dissidence in the party. Having turned down an alliance with the JD(S), the Congress has sent a clear signal that it wants to consolidate votes in the Old Mysore belt where the two parties are traditional rivals.

With these political equations, the Leader of the Opposition, Siddaramaiah; Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee President D.K. Shivakumar; and JD(S) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy, all from the Old Mysore region, could be stuck fighting their own battles, with little time for other regions. For the BJP, which has been under attack for lack of focus on development, endless allegations of corruption and divisive politics, this could work well as it draws its strength from the Lingayat-dominated northern region and the coastal area. In fact, as Mr. Siddaramaiah and Mr. Kumaraswamy continue to squabble and poach leaders from each other’s parties, the BJP, which is keen to increase its footprint in Old Mysore, could benefit there too.

It would be interesting to see how all this will affect Mr. Siddaramaiah. The JD(S) believes that he was the biggest stumbling block for an alliance as the Congress high command had supported its candidate. Mr. Siddaramaiah, who wrote an open letter asking JD(S) MLAs to cast “conscience votes” for the Congress candidate, is now bound to be hounded by the JD(S), a party he was expelled from in 2005. The BJP, too, will up its attack against him, as he has been its most consistent and vocal critic. The former Chief Minister has detractors within the party as well, making him quite a loner in the political arena.

sharath.srivatsa@thehindu.co.in


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Printable version | Jun 21, 2022 12:18:44 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/a-divided-opposition-helps-bjp/article65545604.ece