In the Karnataka elections, a great deal of focus has been on two prominent BJP leaders who shifted to the Congress - former chief minister Jagadish Shettar and former deputy CM Laxman Savadi. Both are now contesting on Congress tickets. Though not as high profile, another interesting turncoat is the Congress candidate from Chikkanayakanahalli in Tumkur district - KS Kiran Kumar.
Kiran Kumar is a former BJP MLA from Kallambella constituency in Tumkur that got redrawn in delimitation. Until his resignation from the BJP in February this year, Kiran Kumar was chairman of the Karnataka State Bioenergy Development Board Chairman.
But what makes Kiran Kumar's case fascinating is that until last year, he was seen as a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh nominee in Chikkanayakanahalli against BJP MLA and minister JC Madhu Swamy, who isn't from a Sangh background. Madhu Swamy had earlier won the seat on a Janata Dal-United ticket and as an Independent and doesn't enjoy good connect in the local RSS unit.
Madhu Swamy was seen so much as an 'independent' operator within the BJP that the party's Lok Sabha MP from Tumukur, GS Basavaraj, compared him to 'Kim Jong Un'. However, the local RSS' backing didn't help Kiran Kumar and the BJP decided to persist with Madhu Swamy in the seat. Now, the seat is witnessing a triangular contest between Madhu Swamy from the BJP, Kiran Kumar from the Congress and former MLA CB Suresh Babu of the Janata Dal-Secular.
So, the only important candidate with an RSS background is actually from the Congress.
This gamble of fielding Kiran Kumar despite his strong RSS background, has brought the Congress in contest in a seat that it has not won for nearly three decades.
Incidentally, Kiran Kumar, Shettar and Savadi are all Lingayats and their entry can be seen as part of the Congress' attempts to woo the community which has traditionally supported the BJP.
However, their shift also represents an interesting possibility for the Congress - of taking advantage of the side-effects of a highly successful organisational growth model that the BJP has practised under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.
So what is this organisational change model of the BJP? And how can the Congress take advantage of it?
This piece will try and answer these two questions.
Modi-Shah's 3-Point Organisational Transformation Model
Few can dispute that the BJP has become a strong political and electoral machine under PM Modi and Amit Shah. Their model of organisational transformation within the BJP, has broadly involved three steps.
Promoting younger, more ideologically hardline leaders
Bringing in leaders from other parties based on talent or winnability
Sidelining the BJP's old guard
This strategy has been employed in varying degrees right from the Union ministerial level to the MLA level and even below. The attrition rate has been very high - in Modi's first term it was just the party old guard but in the second term even many leaders junior to PM have been sidelined - Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Javadekar for instance.
There have been exceptions of course, like Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. Then, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath and now Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma have managed to reach a position of relative indispensability within the BJP.
The idea behind this strategy has been to prevent individuals from getting too entrenched and also to minimise the possibility of public fatigue.
Party president JP Nadda and general secretary organisations BL Santhosh are among the main enforcers of this strategy and they seem to be using it to strengthen their authority in their own states as well.
Interestingly, Jagadish Shettar and Kiran Kumar are both victims of two different strategies among the three points mentioned above.
Shettar has been replaced by a younger and much more stringently pro-Hindutva candidate in Hubli-Dharwad. On the other hand, Kiran Kumar wasn't given a ticket despite his RSS credentials, in order to retain Madhu Swamy due to the winnability factor in a seat not traditionally associated with the BJP.
What happened to Shettar, was earlier done to the wife of former Union Minister Ananth Kumar in the Bengaluru South Lok Sabha seat in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as Tejasvi Surya was selected ahead of her.
Now, Shettar's argument is had it not been for him, Hubli wouldn't have become a BJP bastion. On the other hand, the BJP feels that it doesn't need Shettar to win Hubli or to retain the Lingayath vote, just as it didn't need Ananth Kumar's legacy in Bengaluru South.
This is where there may be an opening for the Congress.
How Can the Congress Gain from This?
The cases of the three Karnataka turncoats also show how the Congress can try to stake claim to a strong BJP vote bank - Lingayaths in this case - by taking advantage of the BJP's constant organisational churn. It can also bring the Congress in contest in seats where it didn't have much of a chance earlier.
But this could be important from the point of view of national politics as well.
Firstly, it shows that the Congress is still in the game and can win over leaders from BJP despite the latter's might.
Secondly, no matter how much the Congress tries to consolidate the anti-BJP vote, the truth is that it cannot defeat the BJP nationally unless it wins over a sizable chunk of BJP voters in states where it is in a direct contest against the saffron party. Winning over BJP leaders could be one an important means towards this end.
Outside of Karnataka, Chhattisgarh BJP veteran and tribal leader Nand Kumar Sai joined the Congress on 1 May. Sai began his career with the Jana Sangh and has been president of the BJP's MP and Chhattisgarh units, besides being MLA and an MP for several terms.
After quitting the BJP, Nand Kumar Sai said, "It was a tough decision of my life (to quit the BJP) as I was associated with it since the Jana Sangh time. I have worked with Atal ji (former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee), Advani ji, Sushma Swaraj ji and other senior leaders. The party is no longer in that form which it used to be during the time of Atal ji and Advani ji," he claimed.
Look at it counterfactually. What if Sai, Shettar, Savadi or Kiran Kumar decided against joining the Congress? They would have either reconciled to remain within BJP despite their disgruntlement or they would have joined a third party. In either case, it would have left the Congress weaker than it is with them on board.
Bringing in leaders from ideologically different parties doesn't necessarily mean dilution of the party's core ideology. In the BJP, imports like Himanta Biswa Sarma and Kapil Mishra have adapted to the party ideology like fish to water. The same can be said of Navjot Singh Sidhu, Nana Patole and Udit Raj in the Congress. The Congress' manifesto in Karnataka, doesn't seem to indicate any ideological shift despite the entry of BJP leaders.