As Karnataka’s assembly elections approach, BJP is trying to find the right approach to dislodge the Congress in the state. “Who better than the master political strategist, BJP national president, Amit Shah, to strategize, advise and motivate the cadre towards victory?”, ask journalists M Venkatesh and Suneet Shukla
He may have emerged as the 'Shahen Shah' of Indian politics, ensuring victory for his party in most of the elections it contested over the last three years, but the Bharatiya Janata Party’s national president Amit Shah is yet to achieve his goal of a 'Congress-Mukt Bharat'. With Karnataka Assembly set to go to elections early next year, Shah’s efforts towards uniting the warring factions of the state BJP unit have picked up pace.
His successive visits to the state in the past few months have been focused on uplifting party-men’s morale, which have been sagging after losing both the elections in Nanjangud and Gundlupet by massive margins in April this year.
Worried over the infighting between state party chief BS Yeddyurappa and senior leader KS Eshwarappa, who floated the now dismantled (Sangolli) Rayanna Brigade with an objective of uplifting Dalits and the backward classes across all castes and communities, Shah sensed trouble for the party’s prospects early enough and succeeded in bringing the diverging leaders back onto the same track.
“I have come here to realize the dream of bringing the party back on the saddle of power,” Shah had said at a conference during a recent visit to pep up BJP partyworkers. His intervention led to Yeddyurappa and Eshwarappa agreeing to overlook their differences. The Rayanna Brigade was dismantled and Eshwarappa was entrusted with the task to mobilise the support of Other Backward Classes (OBC) in the state.
During his successive visits to the state, the BJP national president has directed his brass party to take out protest rallies highlighting the “corruption and irregularities” under Congress rule over the last four-and-a-half years. This also meant devising a plan to influence voters by promising them a clean administration under the Centre’s guidance.
Shah’s motivation resulted in senior BJP leaders, led by Yeddyurappa and Eshwarappa, state-wide protest marches against the killing of RSS workers in coastal districts. He also roped in Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath to invigorate the masses with his firebrand speeches.
Earlier, the BJP leaders had also staged protests to capitalize on Income Tax raids on the premises belonging to energy minister DK Shivakumar and his close associates. They had alleged that documents pertaining to unaccounted wealth were seized during the raids and that sought Shivakumar’s resignation.
Bengaluru development minister KJ George also faced a sustained protest pertaining to the BJP’s alleged corruption in the sanctioning of Rs 1,800crore steel bridge project. “The state government had to succumb to the pressure of the opposition as well as citizens, which led it to eventually cancel the project in the name of “proving our sincerity,” George toldthe media.
Bringing the fight to the Congress government, Yeddyurappa came out with another graft charge against Siddaramaiah and party’s trouble-shooter Shivakumar, accusing them of having caused a revenue loss of more than Rs 350 crore in the coal purchase deal and favouring a private firm. The Congress responded by targeting former minister for power Shobha Karandlaje, alleging that the previous BJP government had rendered a huge revenue loss to the state ex-chequer in power purchase deals. The BJP denied the charge, daring the state government to order a CBI probe in the alleged scam.
Neither shaken nor stirred
The Congress state unit, however, is not rattled by the efforts of the BJP’s mastermind. Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) spokesperson Srikanta Murthy said, “Shah’s gimmicks will not work in Karnataka as the social inclusion measures and public welfare schemes initiated by the Congress have benefited the people. Our chief minister Siddaramaiah’s image is much cleaner than that of BS Yeddyurappa’s, who has spent time in jail.”
“They should bother about corruption in their own ranks,” he said, citing the recent tussle between Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah and an online news portal over a report about “dramatic increase” in turnover of a firm run by Jay, particularly after Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister.
Unperturbed with the series of charges made against his government, Siddaramaiah has maintained that the BJP leaders, frustrated with their poor prospects in the upcoming assembly elections, are indulging in hurling baseless charges against the state government, which has maintained a clean slate in the last four-and-a-half years.
Murthy said the Siddaramaiah government’s prospects are not bleak. “Apart from the seven JD(S) MLAs willing to shift to the Congress, there are other BJP MLAs too, waiting to move to our side,” he said.
Centre holds the strings
State BJP spokesperson Dr Vamanacharya doesn’t deny that MLAs will switch sides but is hopeful that most will be siding with the BJP, not against it. He said that apart from regular instructions from Amit Shah, even HRD minister Prakash Javadekar, who has been appointed by the BJP to oversee the Karnataka elections, has emphasised that the names of the candidates will be decided by the central leadership. “There are also surveys being conducted to assess the best candidates in consultation with the central and state leadership but the final decisions will be taken by the core leadership as far as ticket distribution is considered,” he said.
Vamanacharya added that Shah’s clear instructions may have brought the state leaders together, but there may be rebellious acts at the district level, as all groups want to publicise their existence in the run-up to elections. “Elections are won by capitalising on dissatisfaction. We are trying to create dissatisfaction regarding the present regime and insisting people to go for a change in favour of the BJP. We have been talking about the achievements of Modi,” he added.
Vamanacharya exuded confidence that any allegation of corruption against Amit Shah or the Central government will not affect the state elections.Most recently, Shah was in Karnataka to flag off the 75-day Navakarnataka Parivarthana Rally on November 2, which will see the participation of BJP bigwigs and cabinet ministers Rajnath Singh, Nirmala Sitharaman, Smriti Irani and Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore. The day will culminate with speeches from the BJP’s star campaigner Narendra Modi. “The focus of the Parivarthana rally was to expose the state government’s poor governance and failure in maintaining law and order,” former CM Yeddyurappa said.
With the opposition party, determined to corner the ruling government with allegations of corruption and failure in serving the people, and the Congress leadership putting up an equally stubborn contest, Karnataka is set to witness a theatre of mudslinging in the coming days. Amidst all this, Amit Shah with his organizational abilities could well be the “X” factor that lands the CM’s chair in the lap of BJP.
“(Amit) Shah’s gimmicks will not work in Karnataka as the social inclusion measures and public welfare schemes initiated by the Congress have benefited the people and they cannot be fooled. Our chief minister Siddaramaiah’s image is cleaner than that of B S Yeddyurappa’s, who has spent time in jail”
• Srikanta Murthy, KPCC spokesperson
“The people of Karnataka have witnessed one of the most corrupt governments in the last four years and (they) would vote out the corrupt and bring back the BJP to power”
• Amit Shah, BJP national president
(M Venkatesh and Suneet Shukla are Bangalore-based freelance writers and and members of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)