BENGALURU: The twin setback in the Karnataka assembly bypolls has come as a wake-up call for the BJP, which has been betting on the state to serve as a gateway for Lotus bloom in southern states. Though victory of ruling parties in bypolls is a usual phenomenon in the Indian politics, it is the margin of victory of Congress candidates that is a cause for worry for the BJP.
The shock defeat is also expected to raise questions about the leadership of B S Yeddyurappa, who was brought back as the state unit president, burying the bitter past when he had left the party for a brief period to float his own outfit.
Yeddyurappa, who has promised to deliver on the BJP’s avowed mission to win 150 seats in the 2018 assembly elections, had camped in Nanjangud and Gundlupet constituencies for two weeks to ensure the victory of party candidates.
Yeddyurappa had termed the bypoll as a straight fight between him and Chief Minister Siddaramaiah. He was bullish about BJP’s victory in Nanjangud as the party had fielded senior Dalit leader V Srinivasa Prasad, who defected to the BJP following his ouster from the Siddaramaiah ministry. It’s his resignation as MLA that necessitated the bypoll. The bypoll in Gundlupet was necessitated by the death of co-operation minister H S Mahadeva Prasad and the Congress fielded his wife Geetha Mahadevaprasad.
Lingayat strongman Yeddyurappa along with his party team of leaders--V Somanna, R Ashok, C T Ravi, Shobha Karandlaje and others -- had reasons to believe that their Lingayat-Dalit caste combination could prove unbeatable in the two constituencies where the two communities together constitute nearly 50 per cent of the electorate.
Trying to whip-up the ‘Dalit pride’ by projecting Srinivasa Prasad as a victim of alleged anti-Dalit polity of Siddaramaiah, BJP had billed the bypoll as the semi-final ahead of the 2018 assembly elections. But Yeddyurappa’s calculations of a Dalit consolidation with his Lingayat support base was proved wrong by the voters. Prasad lost by a margin of over 21,000 votes.
“BJP has suffered an unexpected setback. Defeat of senior leader Srinivasa Prasad has pained me. We respect the people’s mandate and accept the verdict with grace. We will introspect where we lagged behind in our efforts,” Yeddyurappa said.
The big defeat could raise questions about Yeddyurappa’s ability to bring the BJP back to power in Karnataka. The voices of dissent against Yeddyurappa’s style of functioning are also expected to gain resonance with the BJP high command, which has drawn up plans to use party’s expected victory in Karnataka in 2018 as a springboard to make foray into neighboring southern states in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Speaking to Express, a senior BJP leader pointed to that Yeddyurappa has not changed his unilateral style of functioning. The differences among the senior leaders over appointment of district office-bearers has not been addressed properly.
“The national leadership will have to take a serious look at the bypoll results and counsel Yeddyurappa to be more democratic in his approach,” the leader said.
BJP’s bypoll strategy, Yeddyurappa’s leadership, caste calculus and the need to groom strong second line of leadership with a long-term perspective is expected to figure prominently when the BJP national leaders sit to introspect on the results and fine-tune their plans for the southern states to ensure a second term for PM Modi.