BJP state president BS Yeddyurappa, is currently in Bidar in North Karnataka, and is facing a strange predicament. Leaders of the party from Bidar district are insisting that Yeddyurappa should contest from any of the assembly constituencies in Bidar. The requests have come after the BJP made it amply clear that the party chief will move away from his Shikaripura constituency in Shimoga district and contest from north Karnataka this year.
The decision to make Yeddyurappa contest from north Karnataka, is part of the BJP’s ‘Mission 150’ that targets winning 150 out of 224 seats in the coming elections.
And to achieve that target the BJP is set to focus in regions where the party had a weak presence in the 2013 Assembly polls.
North Karnataka has 96 seats spread over 13 districts. In the 2013 elections, the BJP had won 22 seats in the region, while the Congress won 57 seats, JDS won 6 seats and 11 seats went to other parties.
“The plan of Mission 150 is to reach where the party did not do well in 2013 and to galvanise strength. The party wants to reverse the situation and win at least 30 more seats,” a strategist working with the BJP said.
“The high command has not yet decided which constituency in North Karnataka I must contest from. I will go by the decision of my party higher-ups. Let CM Siddaramaiah also contest from the same constituency if he wants. The BJP will win the next elections,” BS Yeddyurappa.
The strategy behind making Yeddyurappa contest is two-fold. While the tallest leader of the party contesting from the region would help consolidate more votes, the party has its eye firmly set on the Lingayat vote bank.
The party is hopeful of increasing their vote bank in North Karnataka with Yeddyurappa himself contesting from the region. This they hope will bring about a ripple effect, with support extending to other candidates as well.
“The constituency that Yeddyurappa is looking at is either Bagalkot or Bijapur. He is in Bidar right now where the state party leaders are asking him to contest from Bidar,” said the BJP strategist.
In 2008, when BJP won the elections in the state there was massive support for Yeddyurappa owing to his fallout with JD(S) State President, HD Kumaraswamy over the post of the Chief Minister. The BJP’s victory was also egged on by Lingayat groups who pushed for a Lingayat chief minister.
However, the recent demand for a separate religion by several prominent members belonging to the Lingayat community and seers of various mutts has been seen as an attempt by the Congress to divide the BJP’s traditional vote bank.
The BJP is now discounting the separate religion demands after the seer of Siddhaganga Mutt in Tumakuru, Shivakumara Swami changed his stand. On September 12, Shivakumara Swami said Lingayats and Veerashaivas are one and the same and opposed any effort to divide the community.
Following the Swami’s statement, a set of politicians supporting the call for a separate religion for Lingayats has alleged intervention from the RSS in coercing the seer to withdraw support for the cause.
With Yeddyurappa contesting the elections from North Karnataka, the BJP hopes that their vote percentage will jump amongst the Lingayat community who will see this as an opportunity to vote for a Lingayat leader again.
“Lingayats are the decision makers in many constituencies in north Karnataka. We are hoping that they would vote enmasse for Yeddyurappa this time too,” says a BJP source.
Congress and JD(S) vie for the same pie
It is not just the BJP but also the Congress and the JD(S) which are looking to the north, as the parties believe that votes from this region have the power to sway the election in their favour.
Speaking to the media, Karnataka Excise minister RB Thimmapur and Cooperation Minister Satish Jarkiholi said that Chief Minister Siddaramaiah may contest from a North Karnataka constituency in the up-coming elections.
“We will persuade Siddaramaiah to contest from Athani in Belagavi district,” Jarkiholi said.
His claims were backed by Thimmapur, who said that several Congress leaders are now persuading the CM to contest from North Karnataka.
Getting the Lingayat vote back
For the Congress, looking north is about regaining the support of the Lingayats, which it lost considerably after Veerendra Patil, the Lingayat CM, was abruptly removed from his post in 1989 by Rajiv Gandhi.
"The Congress lost the support of the Lingayats when a CM, who was from their caste was ousted abruptly. They have not forgiven the Congress for that transgression,” political analyst, Professor Muzaffar Assadi said.
A fight for survival for JD(S)
For the JD (S), the looking north is an attempt to break back into districts in which the party had enjoyed a strong presence till the mid-1990s.
JD(S) President, HD Kumaraswamy has already rented a house in Hubballi and has been actively interacting with the party workers in the area as a part of the election campaign. The JD(S) has also planned a campaign titled ‘Mane Manege Kumaranna’, where Kumaraswamy himself plans to conduct a door-to-door campaign to woo voters in north Karnataka.
Prior to 1995, JD(S) had a large voter base across various districts in Karnataka. However, the tables turned when the Idgah Maidan issue erupted, around which Hubballi witnessed communal violence.
“This became the turning point for the BJP to make inroads into the JD(S) vote bank. JD(S) was branded as a party which sided with the Muslims, and the Hindus, who form the majority of the population in north Karnataka, found a reason to distrust the JD(S). They lost their Hindu votes to the BJP. Ever since, they have been trying hard to break into the vote bank, which they once held,” says Assadi.
Party insiders say that while the JD (S) is confident of winning in its southern strongholds of Mysuru, Hassan and Mandya, the key to a JD (S) victory lies in other parts of Karnataka. For JD (S) to come back to power, they say, victories are needed in Gadag, Haveri, Belagavi, Davangere, Hubballi and Dharwad.