BJP gears up to expand footprints in south India; focus on Telangana, Karnataka 2023 Polls
The electoral contest of 2023 has all portends of a tough battle and there are multiple factors that are contributing to the same
The recently concluded National Executive Meeting of the BJP in Hyderabad saw a concerted effort by the party to make a pitch for expanding its footprints in south India. The leadership of the party consistently spoke of the advantage of a double engine government. If the 2014 Lok Sabha polls saw the BJP establishing its strong presence in north, west and central India, the 2019 polls saw the party gaining considerable political ground in east and north-east India. Clearly, the party's strategy now is to focus on the states in the south.
Prior to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, two important states, south of the Vindhyas - Karnataka and Telangana, have their state Assembly polls. While the BJP hopes to retain power in one, it is making an all-out bid to wrest power in the other. The electoral battle in Karnataka is less than a year away. It would be crucial for the BJP to demonstrate whether it can retain power in a state where it would have been in power for close to four years.
Karnataka is the only state in south India where the BJP has been a ruling party. It has acquired this stature in spite of the fact that it has never secured a clear majority on its own in the assembly elections. In 2004, it emerged as the single largest party but could not make a bid for power as the Congress and JD(S) formed a coalition government. In 2008, it fell short of a majority and formed the government with the support of independents. In the last assembly elections in 2018, it came close to the majority mark but could not prove its majority on the floor of the House and paved the way for a short-lived Congress-JD(S) coalition government. Resignations by Congress and JD(S) MLAs led to the collapse of the coalition government clearing the way for the BJP which then managed a majority with the victory of its candidates in the by-elections. Thus, the effort of the BJP in 2023 would be to secure, for the first time, a majority on its own.
The electoral contest of 2023 has all the portends of a tough battle. There are multiple factors that are contributing to the same. After 1985, the electorate in Karnataka have never given a ruling party a clear majority. Will the BJP reverse this trend or will the 'revolving door' policy endorsed by the electorate till now continue to hold sway? In the rise and growth of the BJP in Karnataka, its veteran leader in the state, B.S.Yediyurappa has had a major role to play. The BJP was not able to retain power in 2013 when he parted ways with the party. The BJP will be heading into the 2023 Assembly elections without Yediyurappa at the helm of affairs. While he is still considered as a senior mentor, his role in the decision making process within the party remains unclear. His active participation in the campaign will very much depend on the role that he would be assigned. While the transfer of power from Yediyurappa to Bommai was a largely smooth transition, there continue to be tensions and uncertainties. The three-year record of the BJP government in the state will also be under close scrutiny. The public perception of the delivery of welfare and development programmes will be crucial. The recent electoral outcomes in Uttar Pradesh bear testimony to this fact.
The Prime Minister, Home Minister and BJP National President in their recent speeches during the National Executive meetings in Hyderabad, made frequent reference to the advantage of having a double engine government. The electoral results in Uttarakhand and Goa a few months ago signal towards the importance of this fact. The Lokniti-CSDS post poll surveys in the two states indicate that in spite of a lukewarm response to the BJP-led state government's performance, the strong endorsement of the central leadership of the party and government at the Centre, helped the party return to power. Would a similar strategy be tried in Karnataka? If the Lokniti-CSDS post poll study around the 2013 Assembly elections in Karnataka were to be analysed, one could notice a distinct difference in the voting pattern in the first and second rounds of elections. The BJP did much better in the constituencies that were part of the second round of polling. Incidentally, much of the Prime Minister's electoral campaign in that election was after the first round of polling. The BJP strategists increased the number of days the Prime Minister campaigned and the rallies he held after the first round of elections in the state.
An added factor that the BJP would need to focus on is bringing together the diverse elements within the state unit of the party. There appears to be a sharp divide between the loyalists and the new recruits to the party. The much awaited reshuffle of the Ministry is yet to happen. There has been a question mark on the performance of many of the ministers. As one gets closer to the election, the performance of those who resigned from the Congress and JD(S) and joined the BJP and were accorded ministerial berths would be closely monitored. Many of these ministers won from seats where there are veteran BJP politicians who continue to assert their claims. Balancing diverse interests while distributing the party ticket in the coming elections would be key to the BJP's performance.
It is still unclear whether the BJP would enter this election campaign with a declaration of Basavaraj Bommai as its Chief Ministerial face. While some segments within the BJP have been talking of collective leadership, others have been referring to Bommai as the Chief Minister in the run up to the elections. There is yet another faction that asserts that it is the central leadership of the party under whose leadership the election would be fought.
What is increasingly clear in the Karnataka scenario is the emergence of a straight fight between the BJP and the Congress, with the JD(S) pushing itself to being a distant third player. The AAP is still to register any significant political presence. The strategies of these players is the material for another column! Interesting times are ahead for Karnataka politics.
(Dr. Sandeep Shastri is the Vice Chancellor of Jagran Lakecity University and a keen observer of Karnataka politics for four decades)
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