All is not well in the BJP unit in poll-bound Karnataka, and the leaders are a worried lot.
In July last, angry cadres heckled party state president Nalin Kumar Kateel over the murder of Praveen Nettaru, who was hacked to death outside his shop in Dakshina Kannada on 26 July, 2022, allegedly by members of the now-banned Popular Front of India (PFI).
The BJP and the RSS spent months pacifying the angry cadres, as workers resigned en masse from the party, protesting against the delay in arresting the killers.
If that incident had left the party embarrassed, the public display of discontent, dissidence and infighting in the run-up to the Karnataka Assembly elections, now just weeks away, has made matters worse for the ruling party.
While the party claims to be confident of retaining power in Karnataka, the growing discontent and differences cropping up over candidates, ticket distribution, and factionalism has embarrassed the BJP.
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Here is another example. Even as senior leaders from the state and the Centre were busy with the party’s Vijaya Sankalpa Yatre — its roadshows in Karnataka — a huge crowd of BJP workers gheraoed the car of former chief minister BS Yediyurappa in Chikkamagaluru.
Yediyurappa had flown down in a helicopter at Mudigere to attend the Yatre, and was proceeding to the venue when he was besieged by his own party members on KM Road on Thursday, 16 March.
Around 300 BJP workers, who carried placards and the local MLA MP Kumaraswamy in effigy, blocked Yediyurappa’s convoy and urged him against continuing with the roadshow if the party high command had decided to field Kumaraswamy.
The anti-Kumaraswamy faction also told Yeddiyurappa to accept a memorandum, demanding a change in candidate. They alleged Kumaraswamy was corrupt and that their demand for a change was ignored last time.
“We were made to work for the elections, and Kumaraswamy would get elected from the reserved Mudigere constituency,” one of the agitators said.
BJP’s national general secretary CT Ravi, and Chikkamagaluru MLC MK Pranesh tried to pacify the agitators, requesting them to cooperate with the Vijaya Sankalpa Yatre. Their appeals, however, fell on deaf ears.
An upset Yediyurappa cancelled the roadshow and returned to Mudigere from where he took the same chopper back, BJP sources told South First.
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Kumaraswamy sees a conspiracy
Speaking to South First, MLA Kumaraswamy alleged that some party members were conspiring against him in his constituency. They had earlier assaulted him over an issue of elephant menace in Mudigere.
Kumaraswamy even named those leading the conspiracy against him — Kavish, Sampath, Prashanth, Anoop, Gajendra and Panchakshari.
“The BJP faction working against me is headed by one Kavish, who is the State Farmers’ Morcha secretary, and his confidante Sampath, district BJP party secretary; Prashanth, party president of a hobli (a cluster of villages), Anoop, party president of another hobli, Gajendra, a taluk-level chief secretary; and Panchakshari, a taluk-level secretary,” Kumaraswamy said.
“They have formed the faction to oust me from my MLA position,” he added. “How can they block former chief minister Yediyurappa’s convoy and prevent him from going ahead with the Vijaya Sankalpa Yatre? After all, they had come to campaign for our own party in our area,” he said.
Kumaraswamy then played the Scheduled Caste card. “If they had a little sense, they should have tried to sort out the differences with me within four walls, and not in public, that too before a senior leader like Yediyurappa. I know they are targeting me since I belong to the Scheduled Caste,” he added.
The Mudigere incident was not an aberration. Yediyurappa’s son BY Vijayendra, who is also the BJP’s state vice president, has been eyeing a ticket to contest from Shikaripura constituency in Shivamogga district.
Vijayendra has been active during the run-up to elections. BJP’s National General Secretary CT Ravi remarked that “the decision to give tickets will not be taken in anyone’s kitchen. And nobody will get a ticket because they are somebody’s son”.
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Race for party tickets
“The decision on tickets will also not be taken from the home constituency of an aspirant. It would be taken by the Parliamentary Board,” Ravi told reporters on Tuesday, 14 March.
Responding, Vijayendra told reporters that the more enemies you have in politics, the more you grow.
Vijayendra has been touring the state, claiming that the youth are attending his rallies in large numbers. He also mentioned that everyone knows about Yediyurappa’s contribution to the BJP.
“The decision on distributing tickets to the candidates is neither taken in Yediyurappa’s kitchen nor in anybody else’s kitchen, and everyone knows how and where tickets are finalised,” he said.
“Whatever it is, I will keep working and will abide by the party’s decision,” Vijayendra told reporters.
Meanwhile, the Opposition Congress was quick to target the BJP, accusing it of tactfully sidelining Yediyurappa. However, Yediyurappa dismissed that narrative and maintained that he would be campaigning for the BJP to bring it back to power in the 2023 elections.
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Yediyurappa and son
Soon after Yediyurappa quit active electoral politics, his son Vijayendra took over the baton and is said to be touring certain parts of the state where his father has been seen as a mass leader.
However, it has not gone down well with many BJP workers, including the son of the state housing minister V Somanna, Arun Somanna.
In a video that went viral on Tuesday, Arun is heard saying: “There is a senior veteran leader who sacrificed his seat for his son, and his son has been touring the state as though he is the next leader of Karnataka.”
Arun also accused Vijayendra of speaking disrespectfully to him after which he (Arun) reacted that neither he was born a politician nor he would die a politician.
Somanna and son
According to BJP sources, Arun has been aspiring for a ticket in the upcoming Assembly polls, and his father Somanna has gone to New Delhi to convince senior party leaders in favour of his son.
However, with a photograph of Somanna and KPCC president DK Shivakumar sitting together in an aircraft going viral on social media, speculations is rife that the minister is contemplating joining the Congress.
Somanna later asserted that he will not quit the BJP. Even if he was denied a ticket, he would continue to work as a BJP member, he said.
But the speculation that Somanna is still in talks with the Congress refuses to die down.