The BJP is most concerned about Brand Modi and whether Karnataka has simply harmed or nearly destroyed it
After its huge setback in Karnataka, the BJP is encountering difficulties and doubts. Strange as it may sound, it was not only the BJP’s campaign of bluff and bluster that was trounced in Karnataka. The party’s gateway to the South also junked its much-talked-about Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh models.
Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah personally leading the BJP battle, aided by the likes of the controversial Yogi Adityanath, the state fell like ninepins.
The impact of the shock is even greater as the ruling party’s managers never thought that the Congress could put up a spirited campaign which harped on the issues of corruption, price rise and unemployment. The “Congress-mukt Bharat” campaign had badly boomeranged.
Besides, it had failed to grasp the way that senior leaders Siddaramaiah and D.K. Shivakumar had joined hands despite being rivals in state politics and both keen CM contenders. On the other hand, the local unit of the BJP was a house divided.
Karnataka has suddenly become a puzzle for BJP leaders and has posed problems for election management in other states. The many bows in its quiver, be it hard-line Hindutva or the narrative against Tipu Sultan, not only became blunt and ineffective, but actually helped the rivals.
This happened at a time when the “Mitti me mila denge” narrative against the mafia and bulldozer politics helped the party in Uttar Pradesh to become victorious in the local body polls.
Karnataka was just not that enamoured with Mr Modi’s Gujarat model: this much was clear during the campaigning.
The row involving Karnataka’s indigenous “Nandini” brand of milk and milk products and Amul came at the most inopportune time for the BJP.
If reports that the BJP lost deposits in 31 of the 224 constituencies are an indication, it signals the extent of the anti-incumbency and the deep penetration of the corruption issue.
Ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, something is terribly amiss for the BJP. How or why has it come down from the record win in the Gujarat polls to the humiliating defeat in Karnataka in just a matter of six months? Does it mean the fault lines in Himachal Pradesh, where the BJP lost, were even more pronounced in Karnataka? And if this was so, why were these not noticed by the party’s massive election machine? Why did the “double engine” turn out to be such a dud?
These are disturbing questions. But they are vital as elections to Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and Telangana are scheduled in the next six months, and soon thereafter the mother of all battles, the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. A year from now, a new government will be about to take over in New Delhi.
In Telangana, it will give a boost to BRS, headed by chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao, who seeks to become the first CM from the South to win a third term. The Congress could show that the Karnataka win was not a flash in the pan if Rahul Gandhi plays on the front foot.
What could be worrying for the BJP is the rise of new “Yediyurappas” in other states. It is said that the octogenarian former Karnataka CM had, despite feeling side-lined and humiliated, went along with the leadership and silently struck when the elections came. No one can better understand Karnataka in the BJP than B.S. Yediyurappa. At the same time, he ensured that his son Vijayendra is well-settled for possible future leadership. The loss of some prominent critics of Mr Yediyurappa like C.T. Ravi and V. Somanna is quite revealing.
There have been powerful leaders in poll-bound states, some of whom have been long marginalised by the BJP high command. In the altered circumstances, how can the BJP maintain the strategy of “it’s my way or the highway”?
It is an open secret in political circles that the BJP helps dissidence in other parties, especially the Congress. Now, if the Congress acts smartly, the BJP could start feeling the heat.
Organisational problems too have come to the fore. BJP general secretary (organisation) B.L. Santhosh was the brain behind the campaign that brought Basavaraj Bommai to the helm, replacing Mr Yediyurappa. It is said the Prime Minister had given carte blanche to Mr Santhosh, who prevailed in the distribution of tickets that saw many seniors forced to bow out. Mr Santhosh is the number two in the BJP’s national hierarchy and is the man charged with running the party organisation.
Some political observers who are not remotely known to be pro-Congress have been insisting that the battle for Karnataka was between Mr Modi and Rahul Gandhi, in which Mr Modi lost and Mr Gandhi won. This is a hard thing to digest for the BJP faithful.
Even some allies of the BJP are crediting the Congress victory to the Bharat Jodo Yatra, suggesting that it was not proper on the part of Mr Modi and his men to overlook the impact of the unique outreach. Critics are taking potshots at the BJP: “You bundled out Rahul from his house. He has now bundled you out from Karnataka”.
The BJP is most concerned about Brand Modi and whether Karnataka has simply harmed or nearly destroyed it. The answer to this question will unfold in the future political scenario. Being a campaigner to the core, Mr Modi is always a man possessed who could zag up the election scene with new ideas and slogans.
But even his diehard sympathisers are now wondering whether the PM could reinvent himself by 2024. Their refrain is that while PM has a remarkable record of rebranding himself every five years, this time could be much tougher.