To some extent, BJP has grown naturally in Karnataka. So far this natural growth has been just too slow. Now it appears that it has upped its pace.
BJP has grown due to the fact that other parties have died down. As Janata Dal slowly lost itself, the bigwigs of that party migrated to BJP, naturally, BJP expanded. This is another face of BJP.
BJP has grown by the phenomena of buying MLAs and putting them in its basket. Hence, the door for BJP in the south has not been carved in a single wooden plank. It does not have uniformity from bottom to top. It is a structure that has been built haphazardly.
But how does it matter how you come to power, whether you come from the front door or creep in through back door- power is power! That too at a time when BJP couldn’t find its foothold in the south.
Probably this happens in politics. If a party, however weak it is, if it manages to stay alive for long, if it has the perseverance in the efforts to come to power, then one day, the door of power opens for it. Because people start getting disillusioned with the ruling party or the party which repeatedly comes to power.
Then they look for new parties. At that time the party which is ready gets the opportunity. A similar phenomenon has happened for BJP. And there are indications that in other southern states too, BJP might get such an opportunity in the distant future.
Earlier when BJP was called Janasangh, it couldn’t play an important role in Karnataka. And it looked like an aberration when BJP won 18 seats in the 1983 elections after its rebirth as BJP in 1980 and it soon ran out of beginner’s luck within two years.
When elections happened in 1985, BJP could win just two seats. And after a whole decade of having MLAs in single digits, the party showed growth in 1994. It bagged 40 seats and became the main opposition party. The frame of the door was ready. But another decade passed by just looking at just the door frame.
In the meanwhile, Ayodhya happened and BJP started ruling in many states in the north yet it couldn’t gain much in the south. Idgah Maidan case in Hubballi, Datta Peetha row in Chikkamagaluru, communal riots in Suratkal of Dakshin Kannada district- all these and other such efforts couldn’t get much success in growing in Karnataka. In the 1999 elections again BJP won just 44 seats.
So, the BJP which was standstill for a decade saw its rebirth on the political tomb of Janata Parivar. In the next five years, Janata Parivar was dismantled totally. The strongmen of Janata Parivar, who lost their base started knocking on the BJP door. How could BJP say No to those bigwigs when it was struggling to retain their deposits despite the spirit they had for elections. BJP gave shelter to all those who came knocking. BJP held their hands and they held BJP’s hands. Hence when they fought elections together in 2004, they won 79 seats. BJP came out as the single largest party. But the target of 113 seats was still too far.
Again, BJP remained as the opposition party for the next two years and came to power quite unexpectedly. HD Kumaraswamy of Janata Dal-Secular, wanted to be chief minister even before he became a leader. The coalition government that came in power in 2004, was pulled down as HD Kumaraswamy made a pact with BJP. And then, a new coalition government came into power. By sharing power with JDS, finally, BJP became a ruling party. After 25 years of existence, patience did come to fruition. BS Yeddiyurappa became Dy CM in Kumaraswamy government.
The way a party grows when not in power and when in power are different. BJP which was growing without being in power till then entered into a new phase of growing being in power. We cannot say what would have happened if that had continued being in power for long. But what happened was totally different. After 20 months, power was to be transferred to BJP, and Yediyurappa was supposed to be CM, but Kumaraswamy didn’t keep his word. Government fell.
But Kumaraswamy’s betrayal became a boon for BJP. It appeared as Kumaraswamy who belongs to the Vokkaliga community refused to transfer the power to Yediyurappa who belongs to the Lingayat community. And hence Yediyurappa came to be the strongest leader of Lingayats.
BJP almost got the entire support of the Lingayat community. Until then Yediyurappa had grown depending on BJP, but from then BJP started growing depending on Yediyurappa. In 2008, BJP got 110 seats. Just three short of a majority. They had somehow managed it and come to power on their own. The door to BJP in the south was thus opened.
The next five years of BJP rule is a case study in itself. It exhibited what happens, what are the repercussions if a party that has a history of unnatural growth comes to power. If one were to study and document all the political distortions that the state saw in those five years, it would be studying for scholarship essays.
In reality, the first BJP government was not a government of one party, it was a coalition government in the form of a one-party government.
There were so many factions- one being a faction of those primarily from BJP. In that faction there was a sub-faction that was completely dedicated to RSS and another sub-faction that wasn’t too fond of RSS. Yet they were primarily from BJP since the beginning. And there was another faction of those who came from Janata Parivar.
By then, to increase their strength in the assembly they had bought several congress and Janata Dal MLAs. Operation Kamala, the infamous operation through which many of these MLA’s were bought had their own faction.
More importantly, there was another interesting faction, that was the faction of Bellari mining barons. This faction was instrumental in secretly finding the operation Kamala, and there are no limits to the games this faction played in and outside the government during that period.
There was no one to control this BJP government which had become a party of factions. At the national level too, they were weak.
In 2009, BJP had lost for the second time consecutively. And that was the end of the long period of Advani and BJP. Hence there was no high command control over the BJP government in the state and outside the state, all the factions were pulling the government in different directions. The totally inexperienced and unstable government was totally unstable was soon labeled as one of the most corrupt governments. Yediyurappa had to resign and go to jail. BJP by the time they completed their tenure had seen three chief ministers and had broken into three. So, no one could say if the door to the south for BJP had opened or there were hundreds of small holes that worked as entry sites. Hence, the first government came to an end.
Hindutva- The Rise to Undefeated Power
After this stage, one needs to very carefully and properly understand the road BJP had traversed.
BJP had learned its lesson, it knew all the troubles it had to face due to its unnatural growth. It appeared that BJP’s then principle was to grow naturally and enjoy the fruits.
And to grow naturally, it had just one weapon in its armour- Hindutva.
This weapon had not given them big success till then. Now the old weapon trade had restarted in a big way.
From 2013 to 2018 the one thing they did was, to portray and convince people that the Siddharamaiah led government was an anti-Hindu government.
Comunal developments in coastal Karnataka, the dead bodies that came with it, the blood that flowed, Siddaramaiah’s indifference towards this development, were quite expertly used by BJP and was to a large extent successful in building a narrative that all the parties except BJP are anti-Hindu, anti-nation and anti-development.
In the same period, the Narendra Modi phase that had begun in the center also had its impact on the state. And a new leadership with a new strategy was also available for state BJP.
Even the center had employed the same strategy. Lies and half-truths were mixed to target primarily the youth by building a narrative that the country and Hindu dharma will be in danger if BJP doesn’t come to power.
By this time BJP was successful in getting support from new castes-classes by appealing to the youth. During this period, the hold of Janata Dal on the Vokkaliga community and the hold of Congress on AHINDA communities started getting weak.
On one hand, BJP has the support of Lingayats and on the other hand, the act of giving support to separate Lingayat religion came to help BJP in two ways.
In the eyes of those who did not support the demand for separate religion in the Lingayat – Veerashaiva community, Siddharamaiah and the congress party both became villains. And, BJP benefited from this controversy by bagging the votes of non-Lingayats as they were told that this was a ploy to divide the Hindu religion.
During this phase, BJP was successful in extending its base naturally. In spite of all this, in the 2018 elections, BJP couldn’t secure enough votes to form a government; it got 104 seats. Again when Congress- JDS formed a coalition government, BJP started planning to form a government by again buying MLA of Congress and JDS, and they were successful in their efforts and formed government in the middle of 2019. Again it was half elected – half bought government.
If we look in one sense, BJP has formed the government twice in Karnataka. And if we look in a different sense, we see that in spite of 40 years of continuous efforts, BJP has not been successful in gaining a simple majority. Both the times, it had to get support by buying it from the political market to form a government.
In parliament elections, though it has been bagging seats continuously since 1996, it has not been possible to get total success in getting into power in the state. Again the same question, Has the door been opened in the South for BJP or just small holes?
Anyway, what next?
In the state, we have a situation where no one can clearly predict what would be BJP’s future in the state. Congress is in its weakest position and it can have an adverse impact on the state congress’s revival.
This possibility could help BJP in its future growth. That means, BJP which grew exponentially by gaining from the political fall of Janata Parivar, can find its expansion in the fall of Congress in the next decade.
By then if by any miracle, congress revives itself or if any regional political force arises, then again the victory lap of BJP will be the same, it will be limping in the future too. BJP has not found the answer to the question, who after Yediyurappa?
There is no clarity in whether Lingayats will continue to support if Yediyurappa exits the political fray. And one sees only empty talks in the new generation of BJP leaders in the state, we don’t see much substance in them. Hence, BJP’s future depends on the vacuum created by non-BJP political powers.