From abusing each other in public to jumping the gun in announcing names of candidates, Karnataka BJP leaders are at each other's throats.
Even before it counters anti-incumbency against its government, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) high command has a more pressing issue to resolve: The flaring dissent within the party in poll-bound Karnataka.
With BJP leaders, including ministers, hitting the headline over public bickering, the party’s national general secretary for organisation, BL Santhosh, is giving them a lesson in party unity.
At a district-level party leaders’ core-committee meeting held in the Vijayapura district of the state on 29 January, Santhosh appealed to all the party leaders to keep aside their personal differences and work as one team to bring the BJP back to power.
BJP leader Chandrashekar Kavatagimath told South First: “Santhosh stressed the resolving of disputes within the party before the election dates are announced. He also asked the party leaders and workers not to differentiate between people along caste lines.”
Kavatagimath added: “He urged aspirants not to rebel and work against the party if tickets were denied. The high command stressed more on facing the upcoming Assembly polls as one team.”
On condition of anonymity, a BJP leader told South First that the party was keen on promoting symbol over any individual.
South First previously reported on the internal strategy of the BJP to project party instead of candidates in constituencies.
“Santhosh made it clear to BJP leaders that the party would not tolerate the promotion of any individual identity during the polls and everyone has to fight the polls on the party symbol,” the leader said.
“The high command has also sent a clear message to Vijayapura City MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal not to make any statement against the party and its leaders. He has also been served notice by the disciplinary committee recently,” added a BJP leader.
South First previously reported on how the rift between Yatnal and Murugesh Nirani was denting the BJP’s prospects in the region.
A senior BJP leader who was part of the meeting said the party would announce its first list of candidates in March following an internal survey.
“The political campaigning will intensify after the state government presents its budget for the fiscal year 2023-24,” elaborated the leader.
Despite chiding Santhosh publicly in the past, Yatnal took part in the core-committee meeting chaired by him in Vijayapura recently.
“The central party leadership chaired a meeting with Yatnal for attacking the party leaders in public. He has been asked not to make any inflammatory statements against the party and its leaders,” said the BJP leader.
Yatnal told reporters that he would henceforth not answer any questions related to former chief minister BS Yediyurappa and his family members.
“I will end the political war with Yediyurappa and his family. The party high command has ordered me not to make any statement that damages the party’s image,” said Yatnal.
Karnataka’s industries minister jumped the gun on candidate announcement, upsetting the BJP leadership and cadre.
The fallout of Murugesh Nirani’s unauthorised announcement was also a reason for the BJP to push for party unity.
Ahead of the Karnataka Assembly polls, Minister for Large and Medium Industries and Kalaburagi district in-charge Murugesh Nirani came under fire from district leaders in the Kalaburagi North Assembly segment recently.
At a party event held at the Kalaburagi North Assembly segment on 25 January, Nirani said: “In the 2018 Assembly polls, the party’s nominee Chandu Patil lost the polls by a meagre margin. He has made all the required preparations for the April-May Assembly polls. He will be blessed with the party ticket in this poll.”
This led to dissent in a section of Kalaburagi’s BJP district unit leaders led by BJP state vice-president Malikayya Guttedar.
Objecting to the candidature announcement by Nirani, Guttedar, who is an aspirant from the Afzalpur Assembly segment, told reporters: “The BJP is a disciplined party. The high command will finalise the ticket for every Assembly segment. Who gave the authority to Nirani to announce the candidate for the Kalaburagi North segment?”
He added: “Even Nirani does not know whether he will get a ticket. I will condemn the announcement of candidature for the Kalaburagi North Assembly segment by Nirani. This is not the culture of the party.”
Guttedar is a six-time MLA from Afzalpur in the Kalaburagi district. He was in the Congress till 2018. He announced his affiliation with the BJP that year. He lost the polls against the 81-year-old MY Patil of the Congress in the 2018 Assembly polls.
He is now an aspirant from the Afzalpur assembly segment. His brother Nithin Guttedar is also an aspirant from the BJP for the same assembly segment.
Responding to the criticism, Nirani told reporters he was expressing his personal opinion.
“Malikayya Guttedar is a senior leader. He knows the ins and outs of the party’s operations. I, too, have complete knowledge about how the party operates while declaring the ticket. No one has told me to announce the candidature of the Kalaburagi North seat,” he said.
“With regard to the Kalaburagi North segment, it is my personal opinion, and not the party’s.”
A total of nine Assembly segments make up the Kalaburagi district.
At present, the BJP is in power in five seats and Congress has four assembly seats.
The Kalaburagi North segment is currently represented by Congress MLA Kaneez Fatima.
“Two close aides of Guttedar are in the race for the party ticket from the same segment. This is one of the main reasons Guttedar hit out at Nirani,” the BJP’s Kalaburagi City president Siddaji S Patil told South First.
He added: “Apart from Chandu Patil, Shivakanth Mahajan, the son-in-law of the late former minister SK Kanta, is a strong aspirant from the same segment in the BJP. He is a close aide of Guttedar.”
Patil also said: “It is not just Guttedar; many other leaders from the district have also expressed displeasure at Nirani on this matter.”
When South First contacted BJP state general secretary, MLC N Ravikumar, he refrained from reacting to the matter. However, he said that the party high command would address the issue.