Sunil Gatade | Karnataka’s poll result may upset calculations for Lok Sabha 2024

The Asian Age.  | Sunil Gatade

Opinion, Columnists

The PM is eyeing a third term, and strangely it is looking like the road to New Delhi will lie via Bengaluru

Karnataka is now a key battleground for the Modi-Shah duo to shake off the Opposition challenge amid the growing Congress belligerence. (Photo: PTI)

Something is amiss for the BJP in poll-bound Karnataka, if the reports from Bengaluru are any indication.

The state that saw the protracted hijab row is making the ruling party break out in cold sweat in its “Gateway to the South”.

It is not the style of poll preparations of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah. They are known for their iron hand. They do not tolerate much uproar, rebellion, dissent and desertion. They excel in springing surprises on their detractors, and it is almost never the other way around.

Never in the past nine years has any poll-bound state so much turmoil within the BJP. It suddenly appears clueless about what is happening, unmindful of the fact that the majority of the media is treating it with kid gloves, lest it gets a punch. But the overall picture punctures the myth of the “double engine” government on the one hand and the BJP gaining “Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vishwas”. 

The biggest damage is to the image of the Prime Minister, who has been faced with acute embarrassment. The problem is further compounded by the fact that the PM can’t show anger and has to just grin and bear it. The grandeur projected of the world’s largest party and its strong leader after the record victory in Gujarat is given away in Bengaluru much before the match.

The moot question is whether Mr Modi as the vote catcher is suddenly seeing diminishing returns.

Does such an exodus mean that the partymen are smelling defeat? Time will tell, but the fact that prominent among some of those denied tickets have even turned to H.D. Deve Gowda’s JD(S) tells its own story.

The BJP has done everything to polarise the poll battle. Only recently, the Karnataka government announced its decision to scrap the four per cent quota for Muslims and add it to the existing quota of two dominant communities of the state. Some six months back it had come out with controversial anti-conversion laws. It’s said that there is a “Savarkar versus Tipu Sultan” tussle in Karnataka.

The situation in Karnataka could be part of a deeper malaise. Just two instances. In neighbouring Maharashtra, the BJP has been in power since last year after engineering a split in Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena, but it has failed to stabilise. It is still unclear whether the Eknath Shinde experiment proved to be an asset for the BJP. Mr Shinde’s fate hangs in the balance as the Supreme Court ruling in the Maharashtra government formation case is expected anytime soon.

In faraway Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP is tight-lipped on when the Assembly polls in the newly-formed Union territory would occur despite carrying out what it felt as epoch-making changes by scrapping the Article 370 special status. The propping up of Ghulam Nabi Azad in recent months is another signal that the saffron party is unsure which way the cookie will crumble.

Interestingly, the Karnataka elections are being held when the BJP has either acted or has initiated action on all three core planks -- scrapping of Article 370, building a magnificent Ram temple at Ayodhya and the Uniform Civil Code. Several BJP-ruled states have formed committees on the issue of the formation of the code.

Despite this, the BJP is looking shaky in Bengaluru. If it remains so, then Karnataka could have a cascading effect on the entire South where the party has intensified efforts to further its footprint. It has emerged as the rival to K. Chandrasekhar Rao’s BRS in Telangana, replacing Congress. 

Besides, it could cast a shadow in the Assembly polls of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, two of which are now ruled by the Congress while the Congress is raring to give a tough fight in the third.

The Opposition uproar over the Adani issue refuses to die down. The demand for a JPC on the scam is being pressed relentlessly despite Sharad Pawar playing truant. What the government has to offer is only silence. So far, the PM has not spoken on the subject.

Former J&K governor Satyapal Malik, once seen as close to the PM, has made damning revelations on the Pulwama incident, making it clear that Mr Modi and his national security adviser could not wash their hands off. Even a former Army Chief, Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury, has clearly suggested that the PM and NSA have much to answer for. But here too, there is a mysterious silence.

Amid increasing attacks, the Prime Minister, who waxes eloquent on “Mann ki Baat” and “Pariksha pe Charcha”, has turned “maunibaba” amid growing Opposition charges targeting him.

Karnataka is now a key battleground for the Modi-Shah duo to shake off the Opposition challenge amid the growing Congress belligerence. Defeat is a dirty word for them.

A section of BJP loyalists, however, insists that the change of tickets of over 100 candidates is a masterstroke. “Karnataka was not even a contest before the BJP decided to take a bif risk by changing more than 100 candidates”, goes their argument. Even big national parties can bring about change as long as they have their ideological moorings rooted in a civilisational ethos, or so goes their rationale.

At the same time, it is clear the PM’s writ is being challenged in a party known for its ideological conviction and discipline. This could intensify if the BJP does not perform as per expectations in Karnataka. The PM is eyeing a third term, and strangely it is looking like the road to New Delhi will lie via Bengaluru.