Challenge for BJP, Congress in battleground Karnataka: Fighting their own

Factionalism may be a rather sophisticated word to describe it. What seems to have broken out in both Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress camps should be called full-blows wars. The reason: Aspirant members of legislative Assembly (MLAs) are miffed that their claims for party nomination in the Karnataka Assembly election 2018 is being ignored, perhaps in the interest of ‘winnability’.

While the first list of the Congress has not been released, factions are already raising their voices over various names – allegedly lists – floating around on WhatsApp and other groups. In fact, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah had to take a satirical jibe – that the phenomenon of fake news had reached Indian elections as well – and deny that any of the names on the alleged lists circulating on social media were accurate.

The BJP, which has already released 72 names is facing its own battle: Ticket seekers who had hoped to find their names on the list are furious and alleging money and caste feelings had played a part in ticket distribution.

Both the outbursts testify to what is common to both parties in the fray – supporters of both think they are being robbed of their chances to being part of the government that will be formed in May.

But there are structural reasons for factions emerging in both parties.

It is akin to a merger and acquisition in a company: why are they so often unsuccessful? Because the two companies coming together have different work cultures, different management styles, existing entrenched hierarchies that feel threatened, and different goals and visions. In the same way, political parties need to grow – sometimes by allowing unhappy factions and groups to cross over and join them. The problem arises when the new groups tend to threaten or displace the existing ones.

Take Siddaramiah. He joined the Congress from the JD(S) in the 1990s. In the JD(S) he stood for everything that the Congress opposed – a frank, even disrespectful manner, a caste appeal that the party was not used to, talk of backward class empowerment, and most of all, a horde of supporters and hangers on.

The Congress had sophisticated urbane leaders like S M Krishna. It also had senior socialist leaders (who themselves had joined the party after Ramakrishna Hegde’s Janata Party disintegrated). For them, social equity was important, to be sure. But left-of-centre praxis and secularism was equally important, a la Nehru.

Siddaramaiah’s rapid rise in the Congress led to a degree of marginalisation of those who believed ideology was as important as public policy. They were not without supporters, who found themselves marginalised as well. This process was hastened by Siddaramaiah and his supporters.

Siddaramaiah believes in doing. The old Congressmen believe in thinking and doing. This mismatch in emphasis has led to a lot of crossed wires – and of course, factionalism as one group edging out the other.

The situation is no different in the BJP. When its list of 72 candidates was released, party factions in various parts of the state erupted in fury. The Karnataka Janata Paksha, the party that B S Yeddyurappa launched when he left the BJP and merged into the BJP when he rejoined it, found itself a nonentity after he was projected chief ministerial candidate of the ‘unified’ BJP. On the other hand, the BJP believed it had many more winnable candidates than the KJP. Local newspapers have reported how, in Bailhongal of Belagavi district, Vishwanath Patil, who had contested the previous polls on a KJP ticket, got the ticket this time, while senior leader Jagadish Metgud who had contested against him as the BJP nominee was denied a nomination. “Metgud’s supporters alleged bias towards KJP in candidate selection. They staged a protest, shouted slogans against Yeddyurappa, and beat his effigy with footwear,” reported a local newspaper.

Similarly, in Molakalmur of Chitradurga district, sitting MLA Thippeswamy was not renominated – the party gave the ticket to B Sriramulu, a leader from the neighbouring Ballari district who was previously considered untouchable for being part of the mining lobby.

The most telling example of imperfect integration was the body language in a photograph that showed S M Krishna, newly arrived in the BJP, Yeddyurappa, and other leaders in the same frame. Krishna is standing two steps behind, lonely and unappreciated, though he has been chief minister and Union foreign minister (and thus a member of the CCS) – while Yeddyurappa is felicitated by other party leaders. Krishna is not without supporters who will have reached their own conclusions about their leader’s standing in the new situation.

This posturing, wooing and undermining is the best part of the election. As more names are announced, it will be possible to see clearly how parties are going to undermine their own candidates because various factions are unhappy. 

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel