The BJP on Friday, 10 March, appointed members to its Election Campaign Committee and Election Management Committee — and the lists had some curious choices.
Faced with several challenges in the upcoming Karnataka Assembly elections, now just weeks away, the party has appointed Union Minister of State for Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare Shobha Karandlaje as convenor of its Election Management Committee.
With this appointment, Karandlaje returns to Karnataka politics in an active role for the first time since the 2018 Assembly elections.
Ever since her elevation to the Union Cabinet under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Shobha Karandlaje has been credited as a “hard worker” who is dedicated to her roles in the government as well as the party.
Karandlaje will lead the 14-member Election Management Committee.
Seasoned election manager
A seasoned grassroots-level election handler who has clout among the cadres for her hardline stand on Hindutva, Karandlaje has often proven to be a skillful people manager as well.
In the run-up to the 2018 Assembly polls, she led one leg of the Jana Suraksha Yatre in the communally-sensitive Coastal Karnataka. The yatra played a key role in polarising the coastal districts and leading to a saffron sweep.
In the 2013 Assembly election, Karandlaje had walked out of the BJP with BS Yediyurappa. She had single-handedly managed the Karnataka Janata Paksha’s election campaign.
After the 2018 Assembly elections, Shobha Karandlaje had been sidelined and she took to recommitting herself to the party.
Her perseverance paid off in 2021 when she was handpicked by Prime Minister Modi to join his Cabinet.
The Vokkaliga factor
For months now, Shobha Karandlaje was being considered to replace Nalin Kumar Kateel as the president of the BJP’s Karnataka unit, but the party eventually decided against a change in leadership close to the election.
Hailing from the powerful Vokkaliga community, Shobha Karandlaje’s appointment also helps further the party’s attempt to woo the community’s voters.
“Her appointment also ticks the gender inclusivity box,” pointed out Prof Sandeep Shastri, political analyst and national coordinator of Lokniti Network.
“Pralhad Joshi could not have been made the convenor, especially after (former chief minister and JD(S) leader) HD Kumaraswamy’s comments sparked off a row over Joshi becoming chief minister. After him, Shobha Karandlaje is the seniormost central minister,” he added.
South First poll: Corruption ranks as top issue for voters in Karnataka
Bommai-BSY equation in Campaign Committee
Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has been appointed as chairman of the 25-member Election Campaign Committee.
Curiously, BS Yediyurappa — former chief minister and a member of BJP’s Central Parliamentary Board — will work under Bommai as a member in the Election Campaign Committee. Yediyurappa’s son and BJP state unit vice-president BY Vijayendra too is part of the committee.
For the BJP, which has been increasingly projecting Yediyurappa as the face of the election campaign alongside Prime Minister Narendra Modi, placing Bommai over the Lingayat strongman comes as a delicate balancing act.
“The party was keen that the state president should not be made in charge of other committees to avoid clashes in roles. Since Kateel couldn’t be made chairman, Bommai has been appointed,” a BJP source told South First, adding that Yediyurappa’s name figures alongside other former chief ministers in the list.
The move to make Bommai chairman of the Election Campaign Committee also comes at a time people began noticing that central leaders of the BJP like Modi have been leaving the chief minister’s name out of their speeches and pitches.
Newcomers in, senior ministers out
While senior ministers in the Bommai Cabinet like V Somanna and Murugesh Nirani have found no place in either of the committees, three “newcomers” who quit the JD(S)-Congress coalition in 2019 to join the BJP have found their way into the two key committees.
ST Somashekhar, Dr K Sudhakar, and Ramesh Jarkiholi have been appointed as members of the Election Campaign Committee alongside former BJP chief ministers like Yediyurappa, DV Sadananda Gowda, and Jagadish Shettar, and Union ministers like Pralhad Joshi, A Narayanaswamy, and Shobha Karandlaje.
Senior minister Somanna has been sulking for months now at the prospect of being denied a ticket by the BJP. With speculation rife that he is in talks with the Congress, Somanna’s name doesn’t feature in the list.
Karnataka Assembly polls: Should Revolving Door theory worry the BJP?
Murugesh Nirani, a minister with whom Chief Minister Bommai is said to have a great trust deficit, too, is missing from the list of appointments to the two key committees.
While the “newcomers”, especially those close to Bommai like Health Minister Sudhakar, have been made members of Election Campaign Committee, the BJP has been careful to only have longtime cadre-turned-leaders as members of the Election Management Committee.
The Election Management Committee under Shobha Karandlaje is largely filled with foot soldiers of the BJP who have played crucial role in electoral victories for the party and have a proven track record of resource management.
The likes of Kota Srinivas Poojari, Arvind Limbavali, N Ravikumar, and Chalavadi Narayanaswami are part of the Election Management Committee.