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New entrants to BJP could bolster its weaker assembly seats in Karnataka

LiveMint logoLiveMint 21-03-2017 Sharan Poovanna

Bengaluru: In the last three months, at least five Congress leaders in Karnataka have switched over to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—a move analysts say is part of a carefully calculated strategy as the main opposition in the state is looking to strengthen weaker constituencies before next year’s assembly polls.

Former Congress ministers, including S.Kumar Bangarappa, V.Srinivas Prasad, and former member of Parliament Jayaprakash Hegde among others have ended their association with the grand old party, giving a fillip to the BJP’s election campaign.

Former chief minister and Union minister for external affairs S.M.Krishna, a senior Congress leader who spent almost five decades in the party, also decided to leave the Congress and is expected to join the BJP soon.

Narendar Pani, a Bengaluru-based political scientist and professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, said that there is a clear pattern for the BJP to identify leaders from constituencies where it is considered weak like the Cauvery basin which include Mysuru, Chamrajnagar and Mandya.

A closer look into these regions indicates that this is indeed the case.

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For instance, in the Chamarajanagar Lok Sabha constituency, the BJP has drawn a blank among the eight assembly seats.

The BJP hopes to change its fortunes in the by-polls to be held next month as it roped in veteran Congressman Prasad who has won several elections from this constituency.

However, this will not be an easy task for the saffron outfit as chief minister Siddaramaiah, from neighbouring Varuna, has taken it upon himself to defeat his friend-turned-political rival and retain his influence in the party over growing cries for his ouster, both from within and outside the Congress.

The BJP will also try to cash in Krishna’s support base in Mandya—the heartland of Karnataka’s farmer movement—as it has never been in power in any of the nine seats. In Mysuru-Kodagu Lok Sabha constituency, the BJP holds only two of the eight assembly seats while the Congress has five and Janata Dal (secular) has one.

“We are trying to strengthen our party’s position in weak constituencies,” said G.Madhusudhan, spokesperson for the Karnataka BJP.

But new entrants like Kumar Bangarappa may have little to contribute towards BJP’s ambitions to make a comeback after it was reduced from 110 seats in 2008 to 40 seats in 2013.

Likely ticket aspirant Kumar Bangarappa, son of former chief minister S.Bangarappa and three time legislator from Sorab (Shimoga), lost to his brother in the last two elections.

Madhusudhan said that though the BJP welcomes anyone who wants to join the party, it has neither accepted any demands for tickets made by new entrants nor has it made any assurances. The BJP maintains that “winnability” will be the only criteria during distribution of tickets.

However, the party faces challenges in trying to accommodate new leaders at the cost of disappointing some of its own workers which would drive some of the BJP supporters into the JD (Secular) fold and possibly even the Congress.

Harish Ramaswamy, professor at the Karnataka University, Dharwad, said that disgruntled candidates will be looking at winnability factor even though they may not subscribe to the BJP ideology. “The ideology of the BJP comes to play after winning an election. Thus far they are not bothered who comes in with or without the ideology,” he said.

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