Hamstrung by BS Yeddyurappa's obsession with toppling govt, Karnataka BJP faces uphill battle in LS polls
Ever since suffering the humiliation of being a ‘three-day chief minister’ after the May 2018 Assembly elections threw up a hung verdict, BS Yeddyurappa has been trying desperately to engineer defections from the Congress to regain power
For the BJP, 2019 Lok Sabha polls is like none before
BJP will have to deal with a formidable combination
BJP will be hard pressed to retain three Bengaluru city seats
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) usually begins its preparations for general elections six months in advance, but Karnataka BJP chief BS Yeddyurappa has been so obsessed with toppling the coalition government and becoming chief minister again, that with less than two months to go for Lok Sabha polls, the BJP’s campaign in the state is yet to take off.
Ever since suffering the humiliation of being a three-day chief minister after the May 2018 Assembly elections threw up a hung verdict, Yeddyurappa has been trying desperately to engineer defections from the Congress to regain power. He could never mobilise around 12 to 13 MLAs required to bring down the Congress-JD(S) coalition and during the Budget Session last fortnight had to eat a humble pie as Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy produced an audio tape purportedly of Yeddyurappa offering Rs 25 crore — or Rs 10 crore as mentioned elsewhere in the conversation — to an MLA for switching sides. Yeddyurappa has been silenced, for the time being, with a police case of ‘attempted bribery’. It remains to be seen what impact the whole episode will have on the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
Yeddyurappa again embarrassed his party by claiming that the air strikes on Pakistan will “help BJP win 22 seats in Karnataka” and received a severe reprimand from BJP chief Amit Shah. Yeddyurappa, the Lingayat strongman, was largely responsible for bringing the BJP to power in Karnataka for the first time in 2008, but since then, his erratic and unpredictable behaviour, coupled with corruption charges against him when he was chief minister, have resulted in diminishing returns for the BJP. But not having a leader of comparable stature — and given his track record of volatility when replaced — the BJP has been forced to face another election under his leadership.
For the BJP, 2019 Lok Sabha polls is like none before, as it will have to take on the combined might of the Congress and the JD(S). As evident from the results of three by-elections to Ballary, Mandya and Shivamogga just six months ago, the BJP will have to deal with a formidable combination. In 2014, the BJP bagged 17 out of 28 seats: ten of them by a margin of more than one lakh votes with Yeddyurappa leading the pack, winning Shivamogga by more than a margin of 3.3 lakh votes. And the Congress won three out of nine seats by a margin of less than 10,000 votes because of the three-way fight between the BJP, the Congress and the JD(S).
This scenario is likely to alter substantially when Congress and the JD(S) put up a common candidate against the BJP. In the recent by-elections, Yeddyurappa’s son BY Raghavendra’s victory margin came down to 60,000 votes and Congress snatched the Ballary seat earlier held by BJP by a stunning 2.3 lakh votes. In the May 2018 Assembly elections, Congress and JD(S) polled a combined 53 percent votes compared to 41 percent of the BJP. The two coalition partners were cock-a-hoop not long ago that they would sweep as many as 24 seats in the Lok Sabha elections.
But parliamentary polls are entirely different from Assembly elections and the results do not necessarily follow simple arithmetic. Besides, the tension that has crept into seat-sharing between Congress and JD(S) is likely to spill over into campaigning by party workers, leading to some unexpected results. The BJP has its own share of problems in candidate selection: Some MPs are seen as laggards or facing anti-incumbency. In the old Mysuru area especially, which accounts for 12 seats, BJP will be hard pressed to retain three Bengaluru city seats and one Mysuru seat in a one-on-one contest.
In Bengaluru South, which has traditionally voted for the BJP, Ananthkumar’s absence — who passed away two months ago — will be sorely felt, as he had won six consecutive terms. His wife Tejaswini, who has been successfully running a midday meal scheme for 2.5 lakh schoolchildren, is likely to contest with BJP, while Congress is trying to persuade Sumalatha Ambareesh to stand for election here rather than Mandya.
Union minister Sadananda Gowda who won from Bengaluru North, may face a formidable challenge from HD Deve Gowda, who is pitching himself as a prime ministerial candidate. PC Mohan may have a tough time against Rizwan Arshad of the Congress in Bengaluru Central, which has five MLAs out of eight Assembly segments.
In the coastal and north Karnataka areas, BJP may have it relatively easy. The overall result from Karnataka will depend to a large extent on how the Modi charisma works as ultimately, he is the real vote-catcher for the party.
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