How the Karnataka poll outcome is changing the face of politics in South India

Delhi, Delhi, India Jun 17, 2019, 10.00 AM(IST) Written By: R Balashankar

File photo: BS Yediyurappa. Photograph:( PTI )

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Karnataka is the model that the saffron party will replicate in all the states south of the Vindhyas

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) spectacular triumph in Karnataka in last month’s Lok Sabha elections has triggered a political turmoil in the state. 

With the state Assembly in session, the JD(S)-Congress government in Karnataka is facing its biggest challenge ever. Both have come to realise the futility of trying to keep its folks under check. The faction-ridden Congress and the Janata Dal (S) have become sitting ducks for an aggressive BJP planning to expand its turf all over South India.

In Karnataka and Telangana, the BJP is on the ascendant. The Karnataka victory has exceeded the BJP’s own expectations. Improvement upon its 2014 tally of 17 by winning 26 out of a total of 28 Lok Sabha seats, has galvanised the party.

In 2018, Karnataka was the first state to be projected as a laboratory of the Stop Modi campaign. As part of that strategy, although the BJP had emerged as the largest single party with 105 seats, the Congress and JD (S) joined hands, with the chief ministership going to the decidedly junior JD (S) with 42 seats. HD Kumar Swamy was made chief minister with great fanfare with all top anti-BJP opposition leaders in attendance at the swearing-in ceremony, in Bangalore. 

Naturally, the BJP is now looking at Karnataka as the springboard of its southward march. It would be interesting to examine how the Karnataka poll outcome is changing the face of politics in South India.

While in most states, the BJP and the NDA have maintained its tally of 2014, the one state – other than West Bengal – which has proven political pundits wrong is Karnataka, where the party has effectively won all but two Lok Sabha seats.  Of these two, one is a BJP-backed independent.   

BJP has witnessed a whirlwind journey in the Kannada-speaking state in the last two decades. From winning four seats in 1989, the party started growing in Karnataka in the early 1090s. In 2008, the BJP formed a government on its own, but lost power in 2013. In the May 2018 state Assembly elections, the party missed the half-way mark by a few seats, but it was enough for two arch rivals, Congress and JD(S), to join hands showing scant respect for the people’s mandate. 

The fight for Karnataka in 2019 was unique. The party organisation, which saw a low in the 2013 state Assembly elections, was energised in the last four years. By 2018, it was ready for battle.  

The BJP, which had witnessed splits when senior leaders like BS Yeddyurappa and B Sreeramulu had left in 2011-2012, succeeded in reviving a strong organisation. 

The return of leaders like Yeddyurappa and Sreeramulu to the party and integration with the team was a huge challenge. However, the task was undertaken efficiently right up to the grassroot level, without compromising on the core integrity of the organisation. The credit for this goes to the party’s national president Amit Shah and Karnataka general secretary incharge P Muralidhar Rao.

The measures envisioned by Amit Shah were meticulously implemented. This included creating and strengthening booth committees, adding new members and their training, deploying vistaraks and reaching out to the beneficiaries of Modi government’s policies.

All organisation-strengthening programmes were undertaken sincerely by karyakartas from top to bottom. The BJP plans to replicate this experience in Telangana, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala as part of its southward march. 

The party also benefitted from the entry of new leaders and people from different organisations outside its immediate fold like the JD(S), Congress and some social outfits. 

This was part of the expansion plan of the party, which is still underway. These include the defeat of veteran Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge by Umesh Jadhav, who joined BJP from Congress just before the election. Former Congress MLA, Raja Amresh Nayak, was another leader, who joined BJP and won from Raichur. Principally, it was the spirit of converting challenges to opportunities that helped the party in all these instances.

The formation of Congress-JD(S) alliance was touted as an invincible combination expected to win a majority of seats in Karnataka. But, the BJP diligently identified the fault lines of that flawed partnership and managed to exploit the gaps therein effectively. This was the primary reason for BJP’s unprecedented victories in opposition strongholds like Tumkur and Chitradurga.

Reaching the message of how the Congress-JD (U) alliance is failing inch-by-inch to every nook and corner was initiated. News of the internal squabbles in the partnership and its failure in function as a coherent government was communicated precisely and effectively.

In democratic polity, it is continuous and uninterrupted communication between the political leadership and the people that prevents democracy from becoming sterile and stagnant. Realising this, BJP leadership ensured continuity in its public connect.

There was a huge Modi appeal, but to convert it into political victories, both in the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections was the result of a structured organisational work, decisive strategies and innovation. 

The last five years of the BJP in Karnataka is the best example of how continuous innovation and pathbreaking approaches can raise the quality of political functioning, creating energy and synergy. 

Amit Shah played the most crucial role in driving the party in this direction. His leadership boosted the morale of state leadership, which toiled day and night under party president and popular leader B S Yeddyurappa. State prabhari Muralidhar Rao worked more than a full-timer, building trust and comradeship among state leaders. 

The Karnataka experience has given BJP the confidence to expand into new territories. It will be interesting to watch how the saffron saga unfolds in South India. 

(This article was originally published on The DNA. Read the original article)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)