The BJP has set the perfect stage for a high-voltage electoral war in Karnataka by fielding ministers R Ashok (Vokkaliga) and V Somanna (Lingayat) against the two aspiring chief ministerial candidates of the Congress — Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar. Ashok will contest against Shivakumar in Kanakapura, while Somanna will lock horns with Siddaramaiah in Varuna.
The list of 189 candidates announced by the BJP has its fair share of experimentation but largely plays safe with its tried and tested candidates.
By deciding to field 52 new faces in the upcoming May 10 election and dropping around a dozen sitting MLAs, the BJP is also looking at trying out the famous ‘Gujarat model’. It also plans to give the voters of Karnataka a “fresh, new alternative” to choose from. As some state leaders had put it, the party was trying to “remove the deadwood” and “bring in new petals” in the BJP’s lotus pond.
The first-time candidates have largely been fielded in the Old Mysore region, an area where the BJP has been strategising hard to win as many seats as it can since it is traditionally a Congress-JDS stronghold.
BJP’s David & Goliath Candidates
In a bid to ensure a David and Goliath moment, the BJP has taken the unconventional route of allowing two of its strong leaders to stand from two different constituencies to fight against Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar and defeat them. BJP state in-charge Arun Singh introduced Somanna as the man to whom “Siddaramaiah will lose from Varuna 100 per cent”. Somanna will contest from Varuna and Chamarajanagara while Ashok will contest from Padmanabha Nagar and Kanakapura.
The BJP also tried to play it safe when it came to names of candidates supported by senior leader BS Yediyurappa, including his son BY Vijayendra.
BSY had been insisting that Vijayendra be given the Shikaripura ticket while it is learned that the BJP central leadership was keen on having him take on Siddaramaiah in Varuna. BSY is said to have convinced the leadership that Vijayendra’s win was a sure-shot one in Shikaripura, the seat from which BSY has won seven consecutive times. It may be recalled that in the 2018 elections, BSY had sought the Varuna ticket for his younger son to contest against Siddaramaiah’s son Dr Yathindra. However, in a last-minute decision, the BJP denied him the seat and fielded a relatively unknown T Basavaraju who lost the election.
Insiders privy to the selection process said several rounds of deliberations between the state and central election committee of the BJP were held to come to a consensus on the names of the candidates from the four lists, two by the central team and one each by the Yediyurappa and BL Santhosh teams.
Though the BJP has taken a stand against ‘dynastic politics’ in several state and central elections, this time round at least three sons of senior BJP leaders have been given tickets.
Vijayendra has been given a ticket after BSY announced his retirement from electoral politics. Nikhil Katti, the son of Umesh Katti who passed away in September last year, has been given a ticket from Hukkeri. Anand Singh, MLA from the newly carved district Vijayapura, had sought a ticket for his son Siddharth instead of him.
Apart from sons, even wives of leaders have been given tickets. Sudha Shivarame Gowda, wife of Shivarame Gowda who represented the Nagamangala constituency, has been given a ticket from the seat. M Ratna Viswanath Mamani, wife of late BJP MLA and Deputy Speaker of Assembly Anand Mamani, has been fielded from the Saundatti-Yellamma constituency.
Several candidates suggested by former CM Yediyurappa have been considered which indicates that the BJP wanted to ensure they do not upset the applecart at a time when they are eagerly hoping for another term — this time with a full majority in their favour.
Having accommodated the names of all MLAs with former water resource minister Ramesh Jarkiholi — who led the rebellion of 17 MLAs from the Congress and JDS to jump ship to the BJP — indicates that the party has played it safe with the rebels as well.
Jarkiholi had been pressuring the state and central team to reward all the rebel legislators by giving them tickets in this round as well. In the first list, 12 of these leaders — including Pratap Gouda Patil, BC Patil, BA Basavaraju, Shivaram Hebbar, K Gopalaiah, Narayan Gowda, and MTB Nagaraj among others — have got tickets from the seats they presently represent.
The party has taken into consideration the names suggested by Jarkiholi to minimise the possibility of a rebellion, especially at a time when it hopes to cross the halfway mark of 112 seats and form the government on its own.
The fight for the Athani ticket was quite intense, with the internal tussle between the BJP factions led by Jarkiholi and former deputy CM Laxman Savadi creating a rift in the party. Jarkiholi had been batting for his candidate Kumatihalli for a ticket. BJP sources said despite feelers to Savadi that he would be denied a ticket, the three-term MLA was insistent. Speculations in BJP circles indicate that the ‘extremely upset’ Savadi may quit the party and join Congress.
“The list shows that the BJP wants to send a strong message that those who may be facing corruption charges as well as seniors who are close to or have crossed 75 years of age have been dropped to make way for new young candidates,” said a senior BJP functionary after the list was announced.
KS Eshwarappa, a veteran BJP leader credited with helping bring the BJP to power in Karnataka along with BSY and the late Ananth Kumar, sent a letter to JP Nadda announcing his retirement from electoral politics on the day the list was announced. This also led to speculations in political circles that the former deputy CM was to be denied a ticket. Eshwarappa had sought a ticket for his son Kanthesh from the Shivamogga city seat. The candidate for this seat is yet to be announced and remains pending with 35 other seats.
Another senior leader and former chief minister Jagdish Shettar has also been sulking as he disclosed that he had received a call from the high command asking him to not contest the upcoming elections.
A thoroughly disappointed Shettar said he will contest at any cost. The leader has been called to Delhi to meet Nadda and hold talks on the issue. Shettar, an MLA from Hubballi central seat, has also threatened to contest as an Independent if he is denied a ticket. The decision on the candidate for the seat is yet to be announced.
Balancing the caste matrix
The party has also tried to balance the caste matrix by giving a good balance of representation between the majority communities and weaker sections of society. The majority of the seats have been given to the Lingayats (51) followed by the Vokkaligas (41), OBCs (32), Scheduled Castes (30) and Scheduled Tribes (16).
With this, the BJP has tried to take the Congress by its horns as the latter has been building its election tempo by being the crusader of the AHINDAs. ‘AHINDA’ is a Kannada acronym coined by Devraj Urs — who belonged to a minority community called Urs — for ‘Alpasankhyataru’ or minorities, ‘Hindulidavaru’ or Backward Classes, and ‘Dalitaru’ or Dalits. The term was revived by Siddaramaiah in the state to showcase the groups that are seen as the Congress’ stronghold.
While 52 new faces have been declared by the BJP, only nine sitting MLAs have been denied tickets. These are in Shirahatti, Udupi, Ramdurga, Hosadurga, Sulia, Kundapura (where sitting MLA has retired), Kaup, Puttur, Belagavi North, Vijayanagara, Shikaripura. There are 14 tickets for Panchamasalis so far in the list of 189. Last time 15 Panchamasalis got tickets out of 224 seats.
Compared to the BJP, the Congress too has tried to balance the caste matrix by giving 41 tickets to the Lingayats, 40 to Vokkaligas, 28 to the OBC communities, 20 to Scheduled Castes, and 16 to the Scheduled Tribes in the 166 seats announced till now.
The JDS has announced only one list to date with the name of candidates for 93 seats of the total 224 assembly constituencies in Karnataka.
Battles worth watching
If Siddaramaiah is allotted a second seat Kolar as he has been asking, then he will face BJP leader Varthur Prakash who has vowed to “finish off” Siddaramaiah.
In the Ramanagara seat, where the ruling BJP in Karnataka has announced it would build a ‘majestic’ Ram temple and make it the Ayodhya of the South, the party has fielded its state silk industries corporation president Gautam Gowda against Nikhil Kumaraswamy, son of JDS leader HD Kumaraswamy.
Former Karnataka chief minister and ex-ally of the BJP Kumaraswamy will once again contest against local heavyweight CP Yogeshwar who has been given the BJP ticket.
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