Karnataka polls: BJP pins hopes on Narendra Modi as Yeddyurappa and Amit Shah struggle to pull in votes

The BJP has two problems in Karnataka which goes to polls on 12 May, but has hit upon solutions to both.

Problem 1: Neither BJP’s Karnataka president BS Yeddyurappa nor its national president Amit Shah can win the upcoming state Assembly election.

 Karnataka polls: BJP pins hopes on Narendra Modi as Yeddyurappa and Amit Shah struggle to pull in votes

File image of BS Yeddyurappa. AFP

Solution: When the going gets tough for the BJP,  Prime Minister Narendra Modi gets going. So get Modi to do the job of winning Karnataka.

Probem 2: Yeddyurappa was jailed for corruption for 21 days in 2011. Though he got a clean chit from courts later, few take him seriously when he makes corruption in the Congress government of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah an issue.

Solution: If you can’t change Yeddyurappa, let him change the issue. Billed by the party as a “raithara bandhu (a farmers’ friend)”, Yeddyurappa now waxes eloquent more about farmers than corruption.

This is where the BJP stands a month before the Karnataka Assembly election.

A year ago, the BJP hoped Yeddyurappa could make the Karnataka election a cakewalk for the party. When there were doubts, the party hoped Shah could do the job. Now that there are doubts whether Shah too can pull it off, there is a new hope in Modi.

The party men want Modi to do in Karnataka what he did in the final phase of the Gujarat election in December: Turn the tide just enough in the nick of time to save the party from defeat. In the final leg of the Karnataka election campaign, beginning last week of April, Modi is scheduled to address 10 to 15 rallies in Karnataka. The party’s election managers are trying to double that number and swing a victory.

Modi has visited Karnataka five times in the run-up to the election and hasn’t addressed a rally for a month and a half. This led to claims by the Congress that he has given up on the state and pressure on him from his own party to launch what some call a “final blitzkrieg”.

But what’s wrong with Yeddyurappa and Shah? And why does BJP once again fall back on Modi to win an election?

First, Yeddyurappa. He is the Vasundhara Raje of Karnataka: That’s what’s wrong with him. But there is a difference, of course. Raje is BJP’s incumbent chief minister in Rajasthan and Yeddyurappa is the party’s chief-minister-in-waiting in Karnataka. This difference apart, the two are throwing up the same Catch-22 situation for the BJP in having them as local mascots to win elections in their respective states.

Yeddyurappa: A liability and an asset

Like Raje, who is plagued by administrative and communal blunders, Yeddyurappa is both a liability and an asset for the BJP. This situation isn’t a happy one for the BJP, which wants to regain the power it lost in the state in 2013 under unceremonious circumstances.

The very reason why the BJP lost Karnataka was Yeddyurappa. He had to quit as chief minister in 2011 because of a mining scam of mind-boggling proportions.

Leading the party to victory again is not an easy thing for him, especially if he makes corruption a major election issue. It’s a hard pill for voters to swallow as well.

But he is an asset on account of his Lingayat community (between 10 and 17 percent of the population). Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s blatantly communal and opportunistic move to offer Lingayats a separate religion status and the accompanying sops of a minority community may somewhat diminish the BJP’s share of the Lingayat vote. But Yeddyurappa can still be expected to attract a significant section of the community’s vote, even if it will be less than what the party got in the 2008 Assembly poll. But that alone, of course, won’t ensure a BJP win.

If Yeddyurappa is both a liability and an asset, will the two cancel each other and make him a zero?

But politics is seldom that simple. For one thing, political liabilities and assets aren’t written on the wall in exact sums. Like 1 + 1 isn’t 2 in politics, the BJP hopes that 1-1 won’t be zero either. In other words, the party hopes that the advantages of having Yeddyurappa as a Lingayat showpiece will outweigh the disadvantages. But that’s just a hope.

Shah knew all this as early as August 2017 when he apparently estimated that the party, as things stood, could win no more than 80 of the 224 seats in the Karnataka Assembly. It was from then that he took direct control of the affairs of the BJP in Karnataka.

Shah’s apparent calculation was that while he took care of the nuts and bolts, Yeddyurappa could lead the party’s campaign at the local level by making the corruption of the Siddaramaiah government the main issue, while getting the Lingayat vote in the process.

Yeddyurappa’s anti-corruption crusade was, however, a non-starter. The perception of the Siddaramaiah government being corrupt is widespread and deep, but neither Yeddyurappa nor any local BJP leader could rig up any major scam to nail the chief minister with convincing proof. Besides, the perception of Yeddyurappa himself being corrupt persists despite his acquittal in cases. Even Modi’s famous taunt that Siddaramaiah was heading a “10 percent government” impressed few.

The BJP is also aware that Hindutva has fewer takers than corruption in this election, even in the state’s communally sensitive coastal districts.

If Yeddyurappa has proved to be unequal to the task of leading the campaign, Shah is only an ideator and an executioner in elections, but not a crowd-puller or a vote-getter like Modi. So once again, the job of winning an election has fallen into Modi’s lap.

But can Modi swing it? Modi’s personal popularity is high among vast sections of people in Karnataka though his government’s performance has fallen short of expectations, but it’s a tough question to answer a month before polling.

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Updated Date: Apr 16, 2018 17:48:57 IST