With Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections behind them, the central leadership of both the BJP and Congress are busy drawing up plans for their respective governments.
Back in Karnataka, the state units of both parties have a lot to learn from the results of these elections.
While it registered a historic victory in Gujarat, the BJP lost in its national president JP Nadda’s home state of Himachal Pradesh. Reduced to its worst-ever poll performance in Gujarat, the Congress snatched Himachal Pradesh from the BJP by a whisker if one looks at the vote share. It is bittersweet for both parties.
It is just a matter of days before the focus of both parties and their entire machinery is aimed at Karnataka — the next big state to face Assembly polls, in 2023 — and leaders of the BJP and Congress are both excited and worried.
Gujarat a boost for BJP but worry for senior leaders
The thumping victory for the BJP in Gujarat has come as a boost for the party in Karnataka.
Anti-incumbency is the biggest challenge the Basavaraj Bommai government faces and the party’s record-breaking victory, decimating the opposition, in Gujarat has given the BJP hope. If Hindutva and brand Modi have worked for the saffron party in Gujarat — deemed the Hindutva laboratory — the Karnataka unit of the BJP is positive that it will recreate similar results in the state known as the Hindutva laboratory of the south.
However, the BJP’s loss in Himachal Pradesh — primarily due to infighting in the party, rebel candidates splitting saffron party votes, and erosion of local leadership — will be a cause for worry for the party in Karnataka as it faces similar issues here.
With the unceremonious ouster of BS Yediyurappa from the chief minister’s chair, the BJP in Karnataka has plunged into a local leadership crisis with none in the current crop of leaders able to rise to his stature.
This election, the BJP is set to flag off a new trend for the party in the state — heavy dependence on the credibility of central leaders along with central schemes instead of local satraps, local issues, and work of the state government. The Karnataka BJP is going into polls with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as its primary vote gainer.
“You don’t have to remember who the candidate is. Just vote for the lotus symbol. When you see the lotus symbol, know what BJP and Narendra Modi have come to you,” PM Modi had told voters of Himachal Pradesh. The pitch didn’t bring BJP the desired results in Himachal Pradesh but proved massively successful in Gujarat — home state of Modi.
For a state that has a history of choosing strong local leaders, will Karnataka go the Gujarat route or Himachal way is something that the BJP has to wait and watch.
The more immediate concern for BJP leaders, especially senior incumbent MLAs, is the repercussions of the party tasting success with its decision to refuse tickets to veteran leaders.
While BS Yediyurappa has already declared that he will not contest the upcoming polls, senior leaders like KS Eshwarappa, Jagadish Shettar, V Somanna, Govind Karjol, CM Udasi, and Suresh Kumar among more than two dozen MLAs of the BJP are a worried lot, unsure whether the party will sideline them and give tickets to new faces.
The party also suffers from internal tensions between ‘original’ party leaders and ‘imported’ ones who jumped ship from the JD(S)-Congress coalition government in 2019. The party is torn between loyalists and newcomers in some seats, throwing up the possibility of rebel candidates.
“In Himachal Pradesh, issues within the party cost us the election but we won’t allow that to be repeated in Karnataka. We will ensure all issues are addressed and everyone is taken into confidence. There is no doubt that we will win Karnataka with a huge vote share because of our work and Modi’s name,” N Ravikumar, general secretary, BJP Karnataka, told South First.
Unity is key is Congress’s lesson from Himachal
Despite all of Rahul Gandhi’s push to showcase a “united front” in Karnataka during his Bharat Jodo Yatra, consciously engineering moments of camaraderie between Legislative Party Chief Siddaramaiah and KPCC President DK Shivakumar, it is no secret that the Karnataka Congress is a deeply divided house.
The sustained on-ground, local issue-based campaign by the state leadership, who set aside their differences to work unitedly, proved to be the key to the party’s win in Himachal Pradesh. In Karnataka, a united front for the Congress is still elusive.
Elections are months away and winning is still an uphill task but a full-blown war is already out in the Congress on who will be its chief minister candidate. This has virtually split the party into two.
“The chief minister chair war is hurting us with leaders publicly taking sides and aggravating an already tense situation. The tug of war between Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar has percolated down to their supporters and cadres,” said an AICC office-bearer, worried that all the mobilisation and grassroots-level rejuvenation during the Bharat Jodo Yatra was being undone with warring factions sabotaging the party’s prospects.
“It is true that a united leadership in Himachal helped us win but it was also a vote to reject the BJP and its maladministration. People in Karnataka too are sick of the BJP and its corruption and maladministration. What the media claims to be Modi magic in Gujarat is non-existent and Himachal Pradesh is its shining example. We will go into elections unitedly and win. Mistakes made in Gujarat won’t be repeated,” Saleem Ahmed, working president of KPCC, told South First, insisting that even in Himachal Pradesh, the BJP brought its entire machinery but couldn’t stop a Congress victory.
The Congress’s campaign over corruption and maladministration against the BJP has found traction in Karnataka. But slip-ups such as walking into a Hindu-Muslim communal binary set by the saffron party, propping up multiple candidates in constituencies, appointment of office-bearers who haven’t themselves succeeded in electoral politics, public bickering of leaders amidst a power tussle, and tendency to self-sabotage are making the Congress’s election path more difficult, party insiders worry.
Leaders of both the BJP and Congress will look at the results in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh for lessons as they prepare for the 2023 Karnataka elections.