Karnataka Elections: BJP Struggling to Intrude Old Mysuru Region
Representational Image. Image Courtesy: PTI
The Karnataka Assembly elections, just weeks away, have charged the political atmosphere with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seen as defensive on the perception front. In a crucial move to capture power, it is trying to intrude on the strongholds of the Janata Dal (Secular) and Congress in the Old Mysuru Region.
The region remains a decisive zone to Karnataka's power politics as it is home to the land-owning Vokkaligas community, which accounts for 12-15% of the vote share across eight districts of Mysuru (11), Mandya (7), Hassan (7), Kolar (6), Chikkaballapur (5), Ramanagara (4), Chamarajanagara (4) and Bengaluru Rural (4). The region and community have traditionally backed legislators of JD(S) and the Congress, while the BJP is trying to intrude on the electoral bastion of the two parties.
The BJP's by-election victory in Mandya's KR Pet in December 2019 was seen as a breach of the JD(S)' Vokkaliga citadel. Recently, the independent MP from Mandya Sumalatha Ambareeesh's extending support to the BJP raised eyebrows because the victory of 2019 was attributed mainly to the support from the Congress and farmers' groups.
Despite a couple of events indicating a favourable situation for the BJP but contrary to it, a series of doomed efforts to lure the Vokkaliga community forms an unfathomable situation for the saffron party.
ATTEMPTS TO COMMUNALISE OLD MYSURU
The BJP pushed two fictional characters named - Nanje Gowda-Uri Gowda and made them the poster boys of Vokkaligas who killed Tipu Sultan, diminishing the fact of Britishers taking on Sultan. These characters were discussed after a play written and directed by Addanad C Carriappa was publicised.
It backfired on the BJP when the Vokkaliga seer Nirmalananda Swamiji of the Adichunchungiri mutt warned its leaders to refrain from distorting the history.
Krishna Gowda, the All India Kisan Sabha leader in the Mandya district, termed this move communal to incite hatred between the Vokkaligas and Muslims.
Krishna Gowda told NewsClick, "The Old Mysuru Region has had the rich historical reminiscences of progressive society both under the rules of Tipu Sultan and Maharaja Krishnaraja Wadiyar. And thus, it remains resistant to communal politics."
SCRAPPING RESERVATIONS FOR MUSLIMS
The second move which did not go down well among the region's electorate was the scrapping of the reservations for the Muslims.
Lamenting the BJP government, Gowda said, "Muslims were considered socially backward, so were given reservation under the regime of Maharaja Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV through Miller's Commission in 1918 and later by Chief Minister HD Deve Gowda in 1994. But depriving Muslims of the reservation to empower Vokkaliga and Lingayat communities did not create any appeal among them and would not yield electoral dividends."
Dr TR Chandrashekhar, former Professor of Hampi University and a political commentator, projects the situation in the Old Mysuru region mainly in favour of the Congress brushing aside triangular fight because of the inner turbulence within the JD(S) and ineffective presence of the BJP.
Chandrashekhar told NewsClick, "Traditionally, JD(S) has been the dominant force in the region, but sentiments of the Vokkaliga community are largely seen tilting towards the Congress instead of the JD(S). Moreover, many in the community consider Congress a viable force to take on the BJP when countering hyperlocal polarisation. BJP cannot replicate the region's performance as before."
TACTICS TO REVERSE NUMERICAL STRENGTH OF OLD MYSURU REGION
The Old Mysuru region comprising the Vokkaliga community as a dominant force possesses the power to decide the government's fate because of its 48 seats. In 2018, the JD(S) won 25 seats; Congress wrested 16, the BJP ended up with five, and two seats were won by independent candidates.
In 2019, when the BJP engineered defections across Congress and JD(S), the leaders it imported were mostly Vokkaligas, eventually considering the region as key to power.
Keeping the single-digit seat count it won in 2018, BJP had aimed its first political rally for the 2023 Assembly polls in Mandya on December 31, 2022, which Union Home Minister Amit Shah addressed, indicating the intent to garner more seats.
Likewise, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 11 unveiled the 108-foot-tall bronze statue of Kempegowda, the Vokkaliga icon who ruled the Vijayanagara Empire in the 16th century and is credited to have founded Bengaluru. It was done to bring in sympathy from the community.
Efforts of the BJP failed to create an impact in the Mysuru heartland and the psyche of Vokkaligas, says Prof. Muzaffar Assadi, Dean, Department of Arts at the University of Mysore.
Assadi told NewsClick, "Political invention of the BJP and Hindutva forces like distorting history, removing reservation of Muslims died a natural death. Moreover, no backlash from the Muslim community prevented any polarisation. Attempts to communalise the Old Mysuru region has bitterly failed."
According to Assadi, Muslim communities in the region will support the Congress and traditionally have been rallying behind Gowda but do not rely much on his HD Kumaraswamy as his CM ambitions can include the BJP.
The writer is a freelance journalist.
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