Karnataka: BJP banks on booths to make inroads into JD(S) bastion Mandya
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been busy trying to mobilise support in Karnataka’s Mandya district, about 100 kms from Bengaluru, keeping zilla and taluka panchayat elections in mind though poll dates are yet to be announced.
District leaders of the BJP said the party is making efforts to make inroads in Mandya, known as the ‘sugar city’.
“Till now we never went directly to people but are now attempting to reach every booth, creating awareness on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s development programmes as well as the state government’s,” said KJ Vijay Kumar, BJP’s Mandya district president. “There are 1,794 booths in Mandya and we have almost touched 1,400 till now,”
Though analysts, political leaders and locals say the BJP has little chance to wrest the district from the JD(S), they do acknowledge the slow-yet-steady rise of the saffron party in Mandya, which could help it reap benefits in the future.
Mandya and its Vokkaliga-dominated electorate mostly support the Janata Dal (Secular) and its supremo, HD Deve Gowda. However, the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, fought not entirely on the basis of caste, showed that the JD(S) can be defeated after Gowda’s grandson and then sitting chief minister HD Kumaraswamy’s son, Nikhil, lost by a huge margin to BJP-backed independent, Sumalatha.
The JD(S) won all seven seats in the district in 2018 assembly polls as the Vokkaligas, who nursed a feeling of neglect under Siddaramaiah’s reign between 2013-18, stood behind Deve Gowda-led JD(S).
The BJP is eyeing a bigger piece of this region (Old Mysuru) to help it return to power on its own in 2023, analysts say.
At the heart of BJPs campaign, at least in Srirangapatna taluk of the district, is a mosque which, the right-wing groups believe, is a temple that was converted by Tipu Sultan.
The BJP is sparing no opportunity to use the alleged forced conversion history of Tipu Sultan, the 17th century ruler of Mysuru, to mobilise the Hindu support base.
A difficult proposition, analysts said, since Hindus are not a cohesive support base and are fragmented based on caste and sub-castes.
NS Rame Gowda, former vice-chancellor of the Karnataka State Open University, said the BJP’s sphere of influence is not high in the district considering the caste factor but acknowledged the waning strength of the Congress in Mandya.
The Congress and JD(S) share a bitter rivalry in Mandya and other parts of the state and disenchanted workers from both parties have preferred to move to the BJP.
“The JD(S) and Congress will fight it out with either party getting slight edge. But there is no room for the BJP in the upcoming zilla and taluka panchayat elections nor any other polls,” a Congress leader said, requesting not to be named.
The BJP won its first-ever seat in the district in the December 2019 bypolls when KC Narayana Gowda, who defected from the JD(S), won the seat and was made a cabinet minister for his role in helping BS Yediyurappa come back to power.
“JD(S) is weakening not just in Mandya but other parts of the state as well,” said Professor Chambi Puranik, a political analyst.
The JD(S) has often teamed up with the BJP to either lend support or get backing to defeat the Congress, which is considered the common enemy.
Sumalatha, the sitting MP from the district and the only Independent to have ever won from the state in a general election, said that far too much importance has been given to caste in the political discourse and most of the elections fought now are “issue-based”.
“I feel the BJP will have to work very hard to gain dominance in Mandya and I hope they do because we need to have a third party there,” Sumalatha said.