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BJP to seek early polls in Karnataka, dissolve assembly

The BJP government is Karnataka is likely to dissolve the state assembly a few months ahead of schedule. Plagued by constant desertions from party’s ranks to BS Yeddyurappa’s Karnataka Janata Party and the consequent question-mark over the longevity of the Jagdish Shettar government, the top BJP leadership is seriously mulling over this face-saving option. A final move is expected any time after Makar Sankranti on 14 Januray.

A dissolution means that the decision on holding elections will rest with the Election Commission. But, going by past precedent, where the commission usually clubs election dates of several states together,  elections in Karnataka could happen as early as end-February or early March. This is because elections for three north-eastern states - Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura - are due around that time and their assemblies have to be reconstituted by between 10-26 March. Elections in Karnataka tend to be held in three phases.

Jagadish Shettar. PTI.

A senior BJP leader told Firstpost that the leadership was “actively considering the option of getting the assembly dissolved prior to the schedule. As it is there are too many problems for the party in the state. The daily desertions and constant threats of mass rebellion from incumbent MLAs looking for safer options outside of the BJP are a worrisome situation. Under the circumstances, governance is taking its toll. It would be better for us to have the state cabinet recommend assembly dissolution than live under constant threats of losing the government and, more importantly, party morale.”

In the normal course, the Karnataka elections would have been held in April-May as a new assembly has to be constituted by 3 June. So even if the BJP decides to advance the dissolution, elections will be brought forward by only one or two months. The party feels it has nothing to lose from an early dissolution, since it is anyway on a losing wicket. But dissolution will help stem the rot to some extent.

It was only five years ago that the party successfully crossed the Vindhyas to form its first government in southern India. This was the result of years of hard work by the party and the Sangh parivar. Yeddyurappa was a key player in the party's rise, especially with his standing in the powerful Lingayat community. However, with his exit from the BJP, the party in Karnataka has been significantly weakened, and it has no counter-strategy to rebuild on. The Congress, on the other hand, has already sent former External Affairs Minister SM Krishna to prepare for the assembly polls.

There is a feeling in the BJP that the party could be further damaged if the Shettar government falls in the intervening period and elections are held under President's Rule. Moreover, it will give rival Yeddyurappa greater time to organise his party and cut into the BJP’s support base, both in terms of organisational structure and social constituency. He is, therefore, not trying to force a collapse of the Shettar government. Yeddyurappa is holding his party’s executive committee meeting on Friday to finalise his strategy on this count.

Ordinary BJP workers feel that the leadership messed up in Karnataka by ousting Yeddyurappa without having an alternate strategy in place. Besides the assembly elections, there are concerns about the Parliamentary elections scheduled next year. The BJP has 18 MPs from Karnataka, and any hopes of emerging as the single largest party in the next coalition will partly depend on what it retains in Karnataka too. The BJP Central Election Management and Coordination Committee met yesterday at the party headquarters at 11 Ashoka Road to begin preparations. Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, BJP Vice-President and Central Election Management and Programme in-charge, said the party was gearing up for an early Karnataka election.

Nine assembly elections are due this year: Karnataka, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura in the next two to three months, and in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Mizoram in October. Out of these nine states, the BJP is in power in three states, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka, whereas Congress is in power in five states - Delhi, Rajasthan, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram. In Tripura, the Left is in power.