Karnataka polls: Three-cornered contest involving Congress, BJP and JD(S) will depend on final line-up of candidates

One is the ultimate party worker and loyalist, a totally committed RSS pracharak. The other is the shrewd politician, committed to winning elections and regaining the power he once had. BL Santosh, BJP’s national joint organising secretary is the supreme backroom strategist, crunching numbers of caste and community equations in each constituency, directing party workers at the grassroots level. BS Yeddyurappa, a former BJP chief minister and again the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, belongs to the Lingayat community which holds sway in around 100 seats, understands the need to placate caste, occupational and community expectations in running an electoral campaign in the state.

 Karnataka polls: Three-cornered contest involving Congress, BJP and JD(S) will depend on final line-up of candidates

Representational image. AFP

Sitting above them, the final arbiter of all disputes and decisions on candidates, strategy and campaign themes at different levels is Amit Shah, who proved his organisational capabilities when he scripted BJP’s massive victory in Uttar Pradesh. Today in Rae Bareily and tomorrow back in Karnataka, Amit Shah will do what he does best — set broad ideological parameters and micro-manage the resultant campaign.

Santosh, a Brahmin, a bachelor and a chemical engineer by training, is his man Friday in Karnataka, planning and organising Shah’s schedule and meetings, and staying well out of the media eye. Yeddyurappa is the committed public face of the party, out there in the trenches, shaking hands, patting backs, giving interviews and making the required speeches to different voter segments as identified and defined by Santosh and his back room boys. Any bad blood between the two, and there was plenty in the past, Amit Shah has effectively bottled up for now.

Though the final line-up of candidates will become clear only after withdrawals on 27 April, the broad contours of the essentially three-cornered fight between the Congress, BJP and former prime minister Deve Gowda’s JD(S), is getting clear. Caste and community numbers and expectations and their perception of which candidate can best deliver on those expectations will decide the winner. Hence, candidate selection, tailored campaign strategy for each voter segment based entirely on caste and community, and voter mobilisation and booth management (over 56,000 polling booths) is what Santosh and Shah are focusing on.

The joker in the pack remains the JD(S) and how well they fare in their traditional Vokkaliga strongholds of the old Mysore region which has over 50 seats. At 29 seats in the outgoing Assembly, any gains for them can come only at the expense of the Congress, especially a defeat of Chief Minister Siddaramiah in Mysore’s Chamundeswari seat, considered a JD(S) borough. A result the BJP would no doubt fervently wish for.

But would they be willing to help JD(S) in this. No one is talking about this. Yet, no one rules out the possibility of the BJP putting up weak candidates in some of these seats. After all, the Centre’s delay in deciding on Tamil Nadu’s demand for a Cauvery Management Board after the Supreme Court gave more water to Karnataka is obviously to placate the JD(S) core support, the farmers of the Cauvery waters region.

Also, BJP can hardly have missed noticing the continuing JD(S) anger at the Congress, especially after the party lost out in the Rajya Sabha polls recently when a number of their rebel members cross-voted for the Congress candidates. Though the two parties share power in the Bangalore city civic body, it was the second time that JD(S) had to forego the seat, as the rebel camp openly identified with the Congress, without quitting the party though. JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy  had reacted vehemently to Rahul Gandhi’s charge that they are the BJP’s B team. “Congress must remember that it is B team of the JD(S),” Kumaraswamy had said then. Quite a few of the JD(S) candidates are likely to be Congress rebels denied a ticket. How many BJP rebels they accommodate will also be significant.

Perhaps an indicator to the future is Kumaraswamy’s comment that the “Congress will perish if we simply stand with the BJP and cough”. After all, they did much more than cough in 2006 when they ditched the Congress and struck a coalition with the BJP. A possibility the BJP leadership is probably at least thinking of come 15 May, given what the party did in Goa to form a BJP-led government despite coming off second best at the hustings.

The author is former Editor-in-Charge of The Week.

Your guide to the latest election news, analysis, commentary, live updates and schedule for Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on firstpost.com/elections. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates from all 543 constituencies for the upcoming general elections.

Updated Date: Apr 23, 2018 13:13:53 IST

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