Fraught transition: BJP decided to replace 23 MLAs in Karnataka elections

A decision that has put local leaders in a tough spot

Vikram Gopal New Delhi
Basavaraj Bommai (left) with Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Basavaraj Bommai (left) with Prime Minister Narendra Modi

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Transition has been the watchword in the Karnataka unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since 2021, the year it asked then chief minister and Lingayat leader B S Yediyurappa to make way for Basavaraj Bommai.

Indeed, the advancing age of many veterans in the state, the only one in the south that it has administered by itself, has been a source of anxiety for some time.

The next big step in the transition was to be the elections to the 224 seats in the Assembly, scheduled to be held on May 10. Towards this end, the party, which seeks to retain power, decided to replace many incumbent members of the Assembly, also to counter some of the ill will the Bommai-led government had garnered because of allegations of corruption.

However, the party’s decision to replace 25 out of its 120 MLAs has caused uproar in the state, with some like former chief minister and six-time BJP MLA Jagadish Shettar deciding to switch allegiances — he will contest as the Congress candidate from the Hubli-Dharwad (Central) seat.

The party’s decision on candidates has come as a jolt not just to those who missed out — who, with the exception of Yediyurappa, were not informed of the change before it was announced — but also to leaders in the local unit of the party.
A senior leader in the state unit said the local arm was surprised less by the exclusions than by the protests that followed, especially since the names were decided by the central leadership of the party, a fact, he said, that should have ensured acceptance.

A minister in the Bommai Cabinet told Business Standard the party had spoken about laying down the rule in terms of not fielding legislators tainted by allegations of corruption and who had turned 75, and favouring leaders who had risen up the ranks. But it had been forced to compromise on all these counts, which, he said, sparked the rebellion.

For instance, the party chose to placate Yediyurappa by choosing his son to fight in the seat he vacated in his stead. Similar was the case of Arvind Limbavali, whose wife was picked instead of him. In two other seats, where the incumbent MLAs had passed away, the party chose their family members. But no such consideration was shown to Shettar and others. On the 75-year rule, the minister said, G H Thippareddy had been picked in the Chitradurga seat, though he was set to turn 76 this year.
Meanwhile, though the party said it would reward people who had worked their way up the organisation, it decided to stick with those who had switched from the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) in 2019 and helped the BJP return to power.

The first leader quoted above said this was perhaps most damaging in the northern Belagavi district, where the party had decided against fielding former deputy chief minister Laxman Savadi and chose the sitting MLA, who had shifted from the Congress. But, said the leader, elsewhere the party had made the transition from a position of strength. For instance, in Udupi, a coastal district, where the party had won all five seats in 2018, it decided to replace four incumbents — it picked Yashpal Suvarna, who was at the centre of a controversy after some students were stopped from wearing the hijab in classrooms.

What did not feature in these calculations was the possibility of rebellion, the minister quoted above explained. He said it did not help that in some cases the state and national-level leaders were at odds, for instance on the decision to drop Shettar, whose name the local unit had recommended.

In many cases, those who lost out on tickets, including Shettar, have directed their ire at B L Santhosh, BJP national general secretary (organisation).

The minister said it had become difficult to placate local leaders and party workers. “Perhaps the party could have held discussions with those it sought to retire before the lists were announced,” he said.

But, the BJP is hopeful it can win back some of the disgruntled leaders because party- hopping before an election is not a new phenomenon. All three parties — the BJP, Congress, and Janata Dal (Secular) — witness switches. But it is not often that senior leaders like Shettar do so.

A start was made on Friday, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Eshwarappa in a bid to placate him.

The two leaders who spoke to Business Standard said the situation would improve once Modi started touring the state. “It is now all about managing the booth level,” the minister said.




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First Published: Apr 23 2023 | 10:34 PM IST

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