Will Recklessness of Leaders Like Hegde Cost BJP Dearly in K’Taka?
Communal politics can get BJP votes in coastal Karnataka, but in other parts it could backfire.
“Hatred is your father and intolerance your mother. Illusion is your character and lies are the entire treasure of knowledge,” renowned Kannada writer Devanur Mahadeva didn’t mince his words in an open letter to BJP MP Anantkumar Hegde.
Devanur was responding to Hegde’s comments that those who are secular do not know their parental blood and that the Constitution needs to be amended.
Despite his apology, the MP has been getting flak for these comments against constitutional values. It’s not just renowned writers and Opposition parties, unease is brewing within the party against the brash politics of the young turks.
Young, firebrand leaders of the party, who have been focusing their energy on communal politics, have been getting more attention than the senior leaders. However, communal politics is expected to influence voters in only a handful of districts and several BJP leaders fear a backlash from voters in other parts of the state to the aggressive communalism of some leaders.
BJP’s Two-Front Campaign
The culmination of the Gujarat elections has put the focus on Karnataka, where the BJP is trying to snatch away the Congress’ last big state. The BJP’s campaign in the state has had a two-pronged approach – an issue-based campaign by chief ministerial candidate BS Yeddyurappa and communal Hindutva politics by the younger leaders.
BS Yeddyurappa, one of the biggest faces for the party, has begun a subtle and non-controversial campaign. Along with other senior leaders, he completed the Karnataka Parivarthan Yatra, where he visited all constituencies in the state. He brought up the issue of Mahadayi river water sharing and even managed an off-court settlement with BJP-ruled Goa.
However, in the second part of the campaign, the younger leaders – who believe in communal politics – have made it to the headlines more often.
Return of Communal Politics
In the past two months, Karnataka saw several communal flare-ups and controversial comments. Mysuru MP Pratap Simha and Uttara Kannada MP Anantkumar Hedge have been prominent figures in this phase.
In mid-December 2017, in two weeks, Karnataka saw at least four instances of communal violence. And in the places where violence was reported – Hunsur, Chikkamagalur, Kumta, Honnavar and Sirsi – the BJP was visibly involved. Pratap Simha and Anantkumar were among the prominent names behind these agitations.
Why Communal Politics Could Backfire for BJP
Traditionally, aggressive Hindutva politics has been effective only in the coastal belt of the state. Uttara Kannada, Dakshina Kannada, Udupi and Chikmagaluru, which constitute coastal Karnataka votes, account for only 23 out of the 224 seats in Karnataka.
While the decision to go for communal politics is giving the BJP an advantage in this region, many within the party fear an over-emphasis could lead to a backlash in other parts.
In many parts of the state, people vote for the BJP because it replaced the old JD(U), which was an alternative to the Congress.
“When the Janata Dal split in 1999, it became JD(U) and JD(S). JD(U) was led by JH Patel and Ramakrishna Hegde, who were Lingayat leaders with large vote banks and they partnered with the BJP. So, when these two Lingayat leaders died, the votes went to the BJP. Thus, in these parts of Karnataka, rather than for the current communal face of the BJP, people vote for the party because it replaced JD(U) as an alternative to the Congress. An overemphasis on communalism could affect these vote-banks,” said a senior BJP leader on condition of anonymity.
Unease Within the Party
Senior BJP leaders have been defending Anantkumar’s statement, claiming they have been taken out of context. However, within the party, there is a growing unease about the recklessness of several leaders.
In the first week of December, Yeddyurappa had come out against the statements of Pratap Simha, who in a video claimed that the BJP national president Amit Shah had asked the party workers to indulge in aggressive protests. When the video became controversial, BS Yeddyurappa commented that “Simha has misunderstood Shah’s messages”.
Even the comments of Hegde is said to have upset Yeddyurappa, who was working to bring in Dalit votes in north Karnataka.
Losing the Dalit Vote
The Chief Minister’s vote bank is based on the Ahinda (Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits). Yeddyurappa visited several Dalit homes and spoke against Siddaramaiah’s ‘inability’ to care for them. The statement from Hedge that the BJP would change Ambedkar’s Constitution would make a dent in the BJP’s plans.
Following his statements, several Dailt organisations had come out in protest. Even the Congress used this as a chance to get back at the BJP. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said Anantkumar doesn’t know parliamentary or political language. “We know our language and culture. He is a Union minister, but spits venom,” Siddaramaiah said.
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