Lok Sabha polls 2024 is ‘do or be doomed’ for BY Vijayendra in Karnataka, Annamalai K in Tamil Nadu

Presidents of BJP Karnataka and Tamil Nadu state units have a lot riding on the Lok Sabha elections 2024. For BY Vijayendra and Annamalai K, this is a trial by fire.

ByAnusha Ravi Sood

Published Apr 08, 2024 | 1:26 PM Updated Apr 08, 2024 | 1:41 PM

BY Vijayendra, K Annamalai

Their personalities and journeys are stark contradictions. One is the son of the BJP’s most influential leader in Karnataka and a beneficiary of his legacy. Another is a first-generation politician who has made the switch from civil services, crafting an aspirational story of a common man making it big in politics.

The former is calm, composed, careful with his words and consciously maintains the demeanour of a ‘gentleman politician’ in the public gaze. Perhaps a quality inherited from his father.

The other has carefully constructed an image of being a firebrand, an aggressive leader for whom offence is the best defence.

He vies for the cinematic theme of ‘angry young man’ to woo an electorate that celebrates ‘mass’ over ‘class’ even in their film heroes.

This election, however, brings out more similarities than differences between BY Vijayendra and Annamalai K.

This is a ‘do or be doomed’ election for both BJP state presidents – Vijayendra in Karnataka and Annamalai in Tamil Nadu.

 Also read: In Annamalai, BJP sees its quintessential Tamil film hero 

The enemies within

BS Yediyurappa and his family never faced the kind of wrath from within the party that it has experienced during this election.

A former Deputy Chief Minister (KS Eshwarappa) is challenging his son BY Raghavendra’s candidature.

A former Chief Minister (DV Sadananda Gowda) wants to “purify” the party from family politics – a veiled reference to BS Yediyurappa’s family.

An MLA (Basanagouda Patil Yatnal) repeatedly goes on the offensive against what is essentially BJP’s first family in Karnataka.

As debutant MLA and BJP Karnataka State President, BY Vijayendra’s biggest challenge is the dissent, bordering on hatred, against him within the party.

BS Yediyurappa’s baiters within the BJP have been on a ‘time-out’ since the Karnataka assembly elections proved disastrous.

Learning its lessons quickly, the BJP has once again vested power in the hands of the BSY family. The baiters don’t like it one bit.

The situation isn’t very different for Annamalai in Tamil Nadu either. For cadres and leaders of the BJP who have been working for decades in the Dravidian state, Annamalai is a ‘parachuted’ leader imposed on them by the central leadership.

His ascent to the post of State President of BJP in Tamil Nadu saw its share of dissent.

Annamalai’s louder-than-life public persona and hyped social media perception starkly contrast to grassroots-level, foot-on-the-ground and cadre-focused leaders like Pon Radhakrishnan or Tamilisai Soundararajan.

His statewide padayatra earlier this year was perhaps the first on-ground activity that found resonance among supporters and cadres.

In an election he is forced to contest, this time from Coimbatore, Annamalai’s first challenge is to close the gap between the media hype and ground reality.

In a faction-ridden BJP unit of Tamil Nadu, his detractors are no help to the young politician in his electoral bid.

Two strikes down, one to go for Vijayendra

Following his elevation as BJP Karnataka President, BY Vijayendra has done everything seemingly to perfection. Vijayendra reached out to leaders miffed with his elevation to seek support.

He went on a statewide tour to connect with cadres and leaders who were moping over assembly election loss. As State President, he even refused to recommend action against baiters who publicly levelled corruption allegations against him and his father.

Under his leadership, the BJP and JD(S) came together to take on the mighty Congress in Karnataka. Yet on at least two election-related occasions, Vijayendra found himself on the back foot, one of them an embarrassment to the party that prides itself on discipline.

In February this year, the BJP-JDS coalition faced its first defeat at the hands of Congress. Losing the by-poll for the lone MLC seat of Bangalore Teachers’ constituency came as a jolt to the NDA.

Then came something worse: cross-voting and abstention by BJP MLAs in the recently held Rajya Sabha elections in Karnataka.

While JDS managed to get all its MLAs to vote for its candidate, Vijayendra could not keep his flock together.

After two strikes electorally, a lot is riding on the Lok Sabha elections for BY Vijayendra.

Karnataka gave BJP 25 out of 28 seats in 2019 when it contested alone.

Vijayendra already has the Herculean task of at least repeating, if not bettering, this result in 2024 with JDS as an alliance partner. However, it is easier said than done.

Even if one hopes for the supposed Modi appeal to pacify anti-incumbency sentiments of a government in power for a decade, the overwhelming number of Congress MLAs makes it challenging to trump the goodwill that Congress has accumulated for its guarantees.

The real challenge is to convince his baiters that a victory for Modi is more important than defeating him to prove their point.

Those close to Vijayendra don’t rule out the possibility of an internal sabotage just to ensure his failure as State president.

Now or never for Annamalai

That Annamalai was reluctant to contest this Lok Sabha election is no secret. Yet compelled by the central leadership to prove his mettle, the State president of BJP seeks to be Coimbatore MP.

For many in the BJP, his candidature is a step towards moving him away from State politics, irrespective of whether he wins or loses.

If he wins, he will go to Delhi; if he loses, Annamalai will be relegated to a minor role. By the end of the Lok Sabha elections in 2024, nobody would contend that Annamalai had been given a fair chance, a free hand, unlimited resources, and unquestioned support to either make it or break it for his political career.

After his elevation as Tamil Nadu state president, BJP has not only bled cadres and leaders but has lost its most significant ally in South – AIADMK.

The more popular Dravidian party in the State – AIADMK – minced no words in explicitly holding Annamalai responsible for its decision to break away from the BJP.

Annamalai’s choice of words to describe AIADMK and its leaders, even when they were allies, clearly indicated souring ties between the two.

His attempts to play big brother between warring factions of AIADMK only made matters worse.

In Coimbatore, Annamalai is taking on one of his harshest critics from AIADMK – Singai Ramachandran.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is personally invested in bolstering the BJP’s campaign in Tamil Nadu. While this further strengthens Annamalai’s ability to prove his mettle as the state unit president, a mere hike in vote share may be woefully less than what the BJP expects from Tamil Nadu.

The saffron party wants seats. Annamalai’s failure or his success will settle the debate of hype versus reality once and for all.