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Setting BJP’s house in order will be Amit Shah’s top priority in Karnataka

Ahead of the assembly elections in Karnataka next year, BJP chief seemingly has a tall order to a squabbling state unit battle ready.

india Updated: Aug 12, 2017 21:39 IST
Vikram Gopal
BJP president Amit Shah with Karnataka state chief BS Yeddyurappa and union minister Sadananda Gowda in Bengaluru.
BJP president Amit Shah with Karnataka state chief BS Yeddyurappa and union minister Sadananda Gowda in Bengaluru.(HT Photo/Arijit Sen)

Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah, who is on a three-day visit to Karnataka, will have a lot of work to do to prepare the party for the state Assembly elections in April.

Shah’s visit comes at a time when the party’s top two leaders, BS Yeddyurappa and KS Eshwarappa are locked in a turf war while the BJP’s state unit is completely beleaguered, unable to counter chief minister Siddaramaiah’s manoeuvres on a range of issues.

The BJP has been caught unawares on many issues recently. Comments by senior leaders in New Delhi antagonised groups that have been demanding that Hindi not be used in the state.

Meanwhile, the chief minister’s decision to set up a committee to look into the legality of having a state flag has helped the Congress strengthen its claim as the protector of Kannada identity.

Poaching senior Congress leaders SM Krishna and V Sreenivasa Prasad, too, did not yield much, with the party losing in the by-elections held for two seats in April, with Prasad, considered one of the bigger Dalit leaders in the state, personally facing a setback.

On the issue of caste too, it has found itself running for cover. A state-level programme to visit Dalits’ homes became a source of controversy after it was found that the BJP leaders had eaten food brought from a hotel. The party also faces a huge challenge with the Congress backing demands for separate religion status for Lingayats, which is the BJP’s biggest support group.

Read more:  Modi govt using I-T dept for political conspiracies: Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah

Meanwhile, the recent Income Tax department raids on the houses of state energy minister DK Shivakumar, a strong Vokkaliga leader, galvanized the community to support the leader, as witnessed by the slew of religious heads visiting his house since the raids ended.

The BJP’s attempts to attack the government on its failure to curb communal violence in the coastal regions of the state have been put on the back-burner after Siddaramaiah, who took over the home ministry portfolio in June, reshuffled the police force to curb such incidents.

However, the biggest task Shah faces in his visit is to try to end the simmering factional feud in the BJP that threatens to wreak the party’s chances in the elections. Ever since, former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa was made the state unit president, there has been open dissent against him.

Since the turn of the year, this fight has come out in the open, with senior leader KS Eshwarappa and Yeddyurappa sparring over the control of the party. A group of rebel leaders also held a conclave earlier this year, criticising Yeddyurappa’s leadership, accusing him of favouring his loyalists.

According to Narendar Pani, a political analyst who teaches at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, sorting out the issues within the BJP local unit will be the biggest task for Shah. “Although the party has declared Yeddyurappa as its leader for the state elections, I feel the campaign will be based on appeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”

Pani said this was because Yeddyurappa had a few drawbacks, especially if the BJP wanted to run its campaign based on a platform of fighting corruption. “The BJP was given a chance in the state but they were voted out after the series of corruption charges that came out against the party,” Pani said.

This is also the first real ideological battle for the BJP, said Pani. “The demand for separate religion status for Lingayats challenges the Hindutva ideology, as does the assertion of Kannada identity. The BJP will have to be careful in responding to these issues,” Pani said.

Shah has lined up 25 events over three days on which he plans to meet intellectuals and also visit religious heads, with a visit to the Adichunchanagiri Mutt, a spiritual place for the dominant Vokkaliga community, in Mandya district.

However, with the Siddaramaiah government indicating that it plans to release the findings of the country’s first caste-based census before the elections, Shah has to move fast to get the BJP ready for battle.