Legislators, caste leaders quit BJP ahead of Karnataka polls. What is the impact on the ground?

In the past one month, two sitting BJP MLCs and influential Lingayat leaders have quit the party and pledged allegiance to the Congress.

ByMahesh M Goudar

Published Mar 22, 2023 | 2:00 PMUpdatedMar 22, 2023 | 2:22 PM

BJP leader Baburao Chinchansur submitted his resignation from the legislative council on Monday. (supplied)

The migration has begun and all is not well with the BJP in poll-bound Karnataka. The ruling dispensation is seeing party and community leaders snapping ties with it barely weeks ahead of the Assembly elections.

Though party-ticket aspirants shifting allegiance ahead of the polls is not new in India, the latest migration, though minor, has created a flutter in the BJP camp.

The latest to sever ties with the saffron party was MLC Baburao Chinchansur. He submitted his resignation to the Karnataka Legislative Council Chairman Basavaraj Horatti on Monday, 20 March.

Chinchansur is the second elected legislator to leave the BJP recently. A former Congress leader, he is likely to return “home”, hoping to contest the polls.

His move, however, has sent BJP back to the drawing board in Kalaburagi and Yadgir districts.

Another MLC defection

Earlier this month, another BJP MLC, Puttanna, too resigned from the Council and joined the Congress “unconditionally” — as KPCC president DK Shivakumar termed it.

A former JD(S) leader, Puttanna was expelled from that political formation for “anti-party activities”. He joined the BJP in 2020.

He was elected from the teacher’s constituency, Bengaluru Urban, Bengaluru Rural, and Ramangara, representing the BJP.

His joining the Congress has ruffled the feathers of some in the grand-old party as well. A few “loyalists” are opposing the organisation’s plan to field a “turncoat” in the upcoming elections.

Related: Buzz around Siddaramaiah in AHINDA seat of Kolar

Beginning of the BJP’s woes

The MLCs leaving the party is merely the beginning of the BJP’s woes. Speculation is rife that several MLAs, including ministers, who had quit the Congress-JD(S) coalition in 2019 and crossed the floor to the saffron camp, might return to their previous organisations.

The BJP is closely watching the developments. Despite the party insisting that an exodus would not affect its poll prospects, the exit of prominent faces would be bad optics for the ruling dispensation ahead of the polls.

“Many incumbent MLAs from the BJP are in contact with the Congress and have expressed willingness to join us. The names of those leaders will be revealed only after the poll dates are announced,” Shivakumar recently told a media conference in Bengaluru.

Related: Congress hopes to win back SC (Left) votes in Karnataka polls

Baburao and Kharge’s defeat

Five-time MLA Baburao Chinchansur belongs to the dominant Koli-Kabbaliga community in the Kalyana Karnataka region.


Mallikarjun Kharge’s 2019 debacle in Gulbarga was his first defeat ever since he registered his first win in 1972. (Sourced)

He had played a pivotal role in defeating M Mallikarjun Kharge, now the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and Congress president, in the 2019 election to the 17th Lok Sabha.

Kharge’s 2019 debacle in Gulbarga (Kalaburagi) was his first defeat ever since he registered his maiden win in 1972 when he was elected to the Legislative Assembly from Gurmitkal (Gurumithakal).

Chinchansur had won Gurumithakal in Yadgir three times and Kalaburagi’s Chittapur Assembly segment twice. He was also a Cabinet minister in the Siddaramaiah government.

He quit the Congress after losing the 2018 Assembly polls from Gurumithakal — represented by Kharge for eight consecutive terms (1972 to 2004) — and pledged allegiance to the BJP. He quit the Congress in 2018, reportedly opposing the dominance of the Kharge family in Kalaburagi.

Ever since, he along with other leaders helped the BJP to capture Kharge’s pocket borough, Kalaburagi. In 2019, they tasted success and Chinchansur became the blue-eyed boy of several BJP leaders.

Related: Rahul Gandhi calls for unity in poll-bound Karnataka

Sights set on Gurumithakal

After JD(S) state president CM Ibrahim had resigned from his Legislative Council post, Chinchansur was elected unopposed from the vacant seat in 2022. He has since remained active in the BJP.

Karnataka Government employees strike

Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai feels Baburao Chinchansur can’t dent the BJP’s political armour in Kalaburagi and Yadgir.(bsbommai/Twitter)

According to sources, “Chinchansur left the BJP after he was not considered as a candidate from the Gurumithakal Assembly seat.”

“The other reason is that he is upset with the BJP ignoring its promise of providing the Scheduled Tribe status to the Koli-Kabbaliga community. He is likely to join the Congress in the coming days and demand a ticket to contest from Gurumithakal,” a source told South First.

Political observers, however, felt that he is not influential enough to dent the BJP’s armour in Kalaburagi and Yadgir districts.

Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, too, echoed a similar view. “Chinchansur had come from the Congress and is returning to the same party. The BJP is strong in Gurmitkal and Chittapur, he told reporters.

“His quitting the party (BJP) will not affect the party’s prospects there,” the chief minister said.

Related: As Chikkanayakanahalli dithers, close race between Congress, BJP, JD(S)

BJP ‘loyalists’, too, in exit mode

If Chinchanasur joins the Congress, it will be seen as a “homecoming”, given his long association with the party — but it is not just former Congress leaders who are deserting the BJP.

Former BJP MLA K S Kiran Kumar likely to be the face of the Congress in Chikkanayakanahalli in the 2023 assembly polls. (supplied)

Former BJP MLA K S Kiran Kumar likely to be the face of the Congress in Chikkanayakanahalli in the 2023 assembly polls. (supplied)

Several BJP leaders, who are influential in their respective Assembly segments and were loyal party members, have switched loyalties to the Congress.

Lingayat leader HD Thammaiah from Chikkamagaluru, and former MLAs KS Kiran Kumar from Chikkanayakanahalli of Tumakuru and GN Najundswamy from Kollegal of Chamarajanagar had quit the BJP and joined the Congress recently.

Thammaiah and Kiran Kumar were considered to be staunch loyalists of BJP Parliamentary Board member and former chief minister BS Yediyurappa.

In Chikkamagaluru, Thammaiah is an influential Lingayat leader and was considered to be a close aide of MLA and BJP National General Secretary CT Ravi, who belongs to the Vokkaliga community. Thammaiah was aspiring for a BJP ticket in Chikkamagaluru.

“After he was reportedly denied a ticket, he opted to switch his loyalty to Congress,” a close associate of Thammaiah told South First.

Related: Chikkaballapur is all praise for K Sudhakar, not so much for BJP

Likely split in Lingayat votes

Political commentators expressed the view that Thammaiah’s affiliation with the Congress might split the Lingayat votes and possibly affect the BJP in Chikkamagaluru.

“Thammaiah is an influential Lingayat leader with a sound network in the segment. Lingayats, Kurubas, Muslims, and Dalits are the dominant castes in Chikkamagaluru,” political commentator Rajendra told South First.

“If the Congress gives Thammaiah a ticket and he manages to utilise Congress Legislative Party (CLP) leader Siddarmaiah effectively, it will not be a cakewalk for Ravi, who has been representing the segment for four consecutive terms,” he said.

“Around 80 percent of Lingayat voters will support Thammaiah. With the Congress having its traditional vote bank in the segment, it will be a close fight between the BJP and the Congress,” he opined.

Chikkamagaluru has 2.2 lakh voters. Among them Lingayats have 33,000 votes, Kurubas have 35,000 votes, Dalits have 40,000 votes, Muslims have 26,000 votes, and Vokkaligas have around 12,000 votes.

In the Chikkanayakanahalli Assembly segment, former BJP leader Kiran Kumar is an influential Lingayat leader. His association with the Congress is also likely to affect the BJP.

He is likely to be the Congress’s face in Chikkanayakanahalli. He had unsuccessfully contested the segment twice in 2008 and 2013 as a BJP candidate.

Kiran Kumar was reportedly forced to vacate the seat at the behest of Yediyurappa to accommodate JC Madhuswamy, the minister for law and parliamentary affairs, in 2018.

Related: PM Modi steers clear of JD(S) in Vokkaliga-dominated Mandya

Not the end of the road for BJP

Political commentators felt that all is not well in the BJP with several of its leaders switching allegiance to the Congress.

“The leaders quitting BJP indicates that all is not well and something is seriously wrong in the party,” political analyst Narayan A told South First.

“The relationship between the leaders is not good and there are many factions within the BJP, which is an open secret,” he stated.

“The other aspect is that with the BJP being in power, there are too many poll aspirants in the party. Some leaders might feel that they might not get a chance to contest in the upcoming Assembly polls and hence will switch loyalties to other parties,” he pointed out.

“It is common ahead of polls that many leaders quit their parties and switch over to other formations. But it is not the end of the road for the BJP in Karnataka and an anti-incumbency wave is not visible,” Narayan opined.

Related: The unmissable anti-incumbency in Chintamani Assembly constituency