The BJP’s experiment of ‘retiring’ senior leaders and inducting new faces paid off in Gujarat in state assembly elections last year. To its utter dismay, however, the experiment in Karnataka came a cropper.
Out of 224 constituencies, the saffron party fielded new faces in 75 seats in the recently held assembly elections. Only 13 of them managed to win. The exercise was conducted to inject a new energy and vigour into the party. But the electoral strategy of neglecting the elders in favour of new faces backfired.
Also read: Karnataka BJP president Nalin Kumar Kateel on his way out
Local factors not taken into account
Karnataka is considered the BJP’s gateway to South India. It was only in Karnataka that the saffron party was able to come to power for the first time in the South. However, the BJP has not been able to come to power with a clear majority in the state assembly. Despite emerging as the largest party in the 2018 assembly elections, the party had to resort to ‘Operation Lotus’ to capture power. Therefore, the saffron brigade made various strategies to retain power with a static majority. Fielding new faces was one such strategy.
Under this strategy, the party decided to replace some old sitting MLAs and give the new faces a shot to win. Besides, it had devised a strategy to win the elections by alienating the MLAs who were facing allegations of corruption. Not only that, it adopted the method of selecting candidates through internal voting at the party level. As a result, the BJP fielded 50 new faces to build a cadre of young leaders in the state. But the strategy did not help the party win more seats.
Buoyed by the success of the strategy in Gujarat elections, PM Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah tried to implement the same in Karnataka. However, while taking a leaf out of their Gujarat experience, the party top brass failed to take into account the local factors that are at play in Karnataka, including caste, regions and diversity of cultures, which all impact the outcome of elections. “Main thing is that the local leadership is very important. The top BJP leadership did not believe in the local leaders and planned their electoral strategies without seeking the assistance of the local leaders,” said a BJP leader in Bengaluru.
Also read: Karnataka: BJP ‘loose cannon’ CT Ravi, who defied BSY, pays the price
‘Sidelining’ BSY cost dear
There are three important leaders who hail from Karnataka, including BS Yediyurappa, a member of the BJP Parliamentary Board, BL Santosh and CT Ravi, both national general secretaries, who know the Karnataka poll arithmetic well. But the party is said to have involved only Santosh in making the strategy by sidelining BSY and this impacted the results, he said. “Even BSY came out of the meeting in Delhi where BJP president JP Nadda and BL Santosh were preparing the list of candidates,” he recalled, referring to the closed-door meeting on April 10.
Though giving a chance to young faces was a good idea, dropping the sitting MLAs who have built their vote bases at the last minute had sent the wrong message to their constituents. They could not convey the decision to their supporters and convince them to work for the new candidates. This created confusion among their voters. The decision also left many of the leaders disgruntled and fuming. It was no surprise then that some of the leaders kept quiet, some contested as rebels and some helped the opposition candidates. These factors made the BJP candidates lose, said a former joint secretary of the BJP in the state.
Also read: Still stunned from poll rout, BJP leaders in Karnataka murmur against Modi, Shah
Prominent leaders denied tickets
To help the party induct young leaders into politics, senior leaders like BSY and Haladi Srinivas Shetty bowed out of electoral politics. However, what did the party in was its eagerness to replicate its Gujarat experiment, as it denied tickets to such prominent leaders as Hubli–Dharwad Central constituency MLA and former Chief Minister Jagdish Shettar, Shimoga sitting MLA KS Eshwarappa, MLC Laxman Savadi, Mahadevapura MLA Aravind Limbavali, Mudigere MLA MP Kumaraswamy, Hosadurga MLA Goolihatti Shekhar, Channagiri MLA Madalu Virupakshappa, Vijayanagar MLA Anand Singh, Sullia MLA S Angara, Udupi MLA Raghupathi Bhat, Krishnaraja MLA SA Ramdas and Kaup MLA Lalaji Mendon.
Shettar, who left the BJP to join the Congress, hurled accusations at the BJP leadership in the state. Interestingly, Shettar lost to Mahesh Tenginakai, state general secretary of the BJP. Lakshamana Savadi, another BJP leader who joined the Congress, won from the Athani constituency. However, the Shettar and Savadi effect was more in veering Lingayat votes towards the Congress.