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Karnataka Bypolls: BJP Turns to Caste and Religious Sentiments

Yogesh S |
The upcoming by-election on December 5 is a crucial one for BJP, as it needs to win at least seven seats to be able to prove majority in the 223-member Assembly.

The Bharatiya Janata Party is desperate to retain its government in Karnataka. The saffron party had formed a coalition government with the Janata Dal (Secular) [JD(S)] in 2008, which did not manage to survive for long. 

After 17 MLAs of Congress and JD(S) defected, the coalition government of the two parties collapsed in the state, resulting in formation of the current BJP government with B S Yeddyurappa as the chief minister. The upcoming by-election on December 5 is a crucial one in this context. 

On November 23, the CM reportedly said in Gokak that the people of Veerashaiva-Lingayat communities should vote for the BJP. Gokak is in the Northern region of the state where these communities are in majority. Yeddyurappa was campaigning for Ramesh Jarkiholi, a defector from Congress—now contesting from BJP in the constituency. The CM reportedly repeated this statement in all his speeches on Sunday. Speaking to the press in Belagavi, he declared that the Veerashaivas have got the back of the BJP.

Also Read: Karnataka Bypolls to Be Held on December 5

Caste equations have been seen as an important factor in the Karnataka elections. The parties have historically given tickets to the candidates in the constituencies where their caste is dominant. Anil Urs writes, “In Gokak, Athani and Kagwad all in Belagavi district, it is a battle of Lingayats and Scheduled Tribes.” Even though it is understood that the caste plays an important role in the elections, it is never openly stated the way CM has been doing this time. The reason for this could be, as Urs points out, they do not have an agenda in these elections. None of the political parties have any agenda, but to win. But since the BJP is the ruling party in the state, candidates from the party are facing wrath of the people in the flood-affected regions.

In Athani, defector Mahesh Kumathalli, and the Deputy CM Lakshman Savadi reportedly drew flak from the people. Prajavani quoted the women as saying, “We have lost everything we had due to the floods. We still haven’t received any form of help from the government. Even the Gram Panchayat head has not visited us. During elections, 40-50 people visited us. We have got no facilities here.” Prajavani reported that Kumathalli and the deputy CM “were embarrassed”. The negligence of the government towards the flood-affected regions would cost BJP the election, opine the opposition parties and political analysts in the state.

However, Yeddyurappa is confident of winning in all the 15 seats in the bypolls. On November 25, campaigning in Vijayanagar constituency, he spoke about Anand Singh—the defector who is contesting from the BJP. “Anand Singh has already won in the constituency before,” he said, suggesting that he would win again. As NewsClick had reported earlier, this seems to be the idea behind BJP giving tickets to the 13 defectors in the same constituencies that they were previously elected in.

Also Read: Karnataka By-Elections: Will BJP Have to Pay for Their Overconfidence?

The CM was also seen recollecting a communal riot that had resulted in violence in 2017. He was campaigning for H Vishwanath in Hunsur when he reportedly said, “All the police complaints related to the Hunsur Hanuman Jayanti violence will be retracted.”

In December 2017, the then government had curbed the procession of the Hanuman idol in Hunsur on the occasion of Hanuman Jayanti. It should be noted that the festival has never been a public celebration in the region. In 2017, the festival coincided with Id-Milad. The BJP Yuva Morcha planned this procession. However, the procession was taken out without permission from the police and this had resulted in the arrest of Pratap Simha, a BJP MP from Kodagu. His arrest in turn had resulted in a riot in the region. Cases for instigating violence were slapped on many, which the referred to in Hunsur. 

Including the Speaker, the Karnataka Legislative Assembly has 225 members. Out of the total strength of 224, the ‘magic number’ is 113. Congress and JD(S) had formed a post-poll coalition along with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), an independent candidate and a nominated member; the strength of the coalition stood at 118. On the other hand, BJP has 105 seats and one from the Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janatha Party, making an aggregate of 106. With the results of the bypolls for 15 seats, the total strength of the house will be 223. So, the BJP needs to win at least seven seats in the bypolls to have a majority. With no agenda and the failure in helping the flood victims, the CM seems to be turning to caste and religious sentiments of the people.

Also Read: Karnataka Flood Relief Funds: Delayed and Meagre Allocation by Centre

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