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Amit Shah’s aura of invincibility dims after Karnataka setback, opposition more emboldened than ever

BJP leaders admit that the party’s Karnataka fiasco has emboldened its rivals and also given reason to sulking allies to cheer.

Karnataka Elections 2018 Updated: May 21, 2018 13:37 IST
Kumar Uttam
Kumar Uttam
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Amit Shah,Karnataka,Karnataka results
Amit Shah came to be known as a modern-day Chankaya, able to win the toughest of political battles and exploit the most adverse situations , such as in Goa and Manipur. (PTI)

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) failure to prove a majority in Karnataka may not have a major bearing within the party, but the reversal dims the aura of invincibility that the BJP under Amit Shah has exuded over the past three years, senior leaders and political experts said.

Shah managed to ride out the BJP’s defeats in Delhi and Bihar in 2015 (the BJP returned to power in Bihar in 2017 when JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar broke away from his alliance partners and tied up with it) with electoral success in new territories like the north-east , making small inroads in West Bengal and Kerala and finally the scale of victories in states such as Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

He came to be known as a modern-day Chankaya, able to win the toughest of political battles and exploit the most adverse situations , such as in Goa and Manipur. The abortive bid for power in Karnataka, where the BJP didn’t have adequate numbers in the assembly, may have two implications for Shah and the party, a BJP leader said on condition of anonymity.

First, it emboldens the Opposition into believing that Shah and the BJP can be stopped. Euphoria has been palpable among opposition parties, some of which are trying to stitch up a federal front against the BJP in time for the 2019 general elections.

Shah’s term as BJP president ends this year, but he is most likely to remain at the helm until at least the next general election. This means he will be in total command of the party.

“Shah had a huge psychological advantage over his rivals that it is the BJP that will form the government at the end, no matter what the numbers are,” the BJP leader cited above said. “After Karnataka, he doesn’t have that advantage.”

Trinamool Congress (TMC) president and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, one of the driving forces of the proposed anti-BJP front, was quick to react when Yeddyurappa resigned on Saturday without facing a trust vote, making way for a Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government.

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati, too, called Yeddyurappa’s resignation a blow to the BJP and insisted that the BJP will now have to alter its strategy for the next general election.

Mayawati is seen as a potential claimant for the prime minister’s post, following her alliance with Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, which elects 80 Lok Sabha MPs.

The BJP’s aggression has made its allies anxious. The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) has walked out of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, the Shiv Sena has announced it will contest the 2019 election separately, and smaller parties such as Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party of Om Prakash Rajbhar in Uttar Pradesh are upset over being ignored.

“We certainly have got a problem,” a second BJP leader said. “Our rivals are emboldened, our allies are sulking and the Karnataka fiasco gives both of them a reason to cheer.”

BJP’s media cell chief and Rajya Sabha member Anil Baluni argues that the federal front is a chimera. “Where is the federal front?,” he asked. “We are already fighting those parties in different states. Do you think Lalu Prasad will make any difference in Tamil Nadu or Chandrababu Naidu in UP? It’s a joke.”

The second implication of the Karnataka reversal could bring the spotlight back on how Shah micromanages the party — he oversees everything from appointments to party posts, and selection of candidates to drafting of the BJP’s campaign strategy and managing resources.

It has helped the party win several states for the BJP, and earned Shah the reputation of a master strategist. “If the credit goes to him, the blame will also rest with him,” the second BJP leader cited above said.

In Karnataka, the party brass is blamed for denying tickets to Yeddyurappa loyalists such as Udupi Chikmagalur MP Shobha Karandlaje and his son BY Vijayendra. The message did not go down well with BSY supporters, a Karnataka BJP leader said.

“What was surprising was not so much the recklessness of this attempt to form a government but how brazen they were about playing with norms,” said Gilles Verniers, associate professor of political science at Ashoka University. “In the process, they forgot that shadow politics loses its potency when in it is displayed in broad daylight. In this case it clearly backfired.”

The BJP will face electoral challenges in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram later this year, before it gets war ready for the 2019 general election. A victory in Karnataka could have ensured smoother sailing for Shah in these states.

First Published: May 20, 2018 22:20 IST