'Mission 20-25' in Lok Sabha polls: Yeddyurappa takes aim at many targets

The target of securing at least 20 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats, set by BJP chief in Karnataka B S Yeddyurappa, if achieved, will re-establish the party’s dominance in the only southern state in which it has been in power | Photo: PTI
Notwithstanding its failure to reach a majority in the May assembly election and loss to the Congress in the recent urban body polls, the Karnataka unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has set a target of netting 20 to 25 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in the state next year. 

The goal, set by state BJP president B S Yeddyurappa, ostensibly serves multiple purposes. First, if the BJP gets even 20, it will be an improvement over the 17 seats it had picked up in 2014 on the back of the “Modi wave”. Second, the success will help re-establish the BJP’s dominance in the only southern state it breached by combining strong local leadership and smart caste arithmetic with Hindutva and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s network. Third, the BJP hopes to partially recompense the loss the party may incur in the states where it peaked over four years ago.  

Karnataka BJP leaders dismissed the recent setbacks as “marginal” and sounded confident of the party regaining its primacy in Karnataka. “Local body and assembly polls don’t signal much for the big battle ahead. People love (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi,” stated Ashwath Narayan, who was elected from Bengaluru’s Malleshwaram — regarded as the “thinking person’s” constituency — in the state polls.  

S Suresh Kumar, Karnataka BJP’s chief spokesperson and Rajajinagar legislator, said: “Even in our strongholds, we need to recalibrate our strategies. Modi will be the BJP’s central theme.”  

For Ganesh Karnik, a Yeddyurappa aide, successfully completing the “Mission 20-25” doesn’t appear extremely daunting. “Since losing the 2013 (assembly) election and the splits we saw before that election (Yeddyurappa formed the Karnataka Janata Paksha and the Bellary Reddys’ protege B Sriramulu floated the Badava Shramika Raitha Congress), a lot of water has flowed under the bridge. These leaders are back in the BJP. In Delhi, Modi and Amit Shah (BJP president) have brought personal and personnel management skills to party politics.  The concept of page pramukh (assigned to connect with the voters named in the electoral rolls of a specific area) worked wonders for a cadre-driven party like ours,” said Karnik. He said a major facet of the BJP’s master plan was to “target young and fresh voters who are not influenced by material incentives.”

Doubtless, every sub-theme in the BJP’s 2019 campaign will likely converge on Modi, but Karnataka poses a few fundamental problems for the party. Kumar recalled that in 2014, the BJP didn’t win one seat in a 347-km stretch from Davangere in central Karnataka to Mysuru in the south and cut across the Chitradurga, Tumkur, Chikkballapur, Mandya, Hassan and Davangere constituencies. The three Bengaluru seats and Mysuru broke the jinx but, according to K S Eshwarappa, the leader of the Opposition in the legislative council, the defeats “reinforced our weakness in the Vokkaliga-dominated areas”.  The Lingayats and the Vokkaligas are at the apex of Karnataka’s caste pyramid.

Photo: Reuters
The recent polls revealed another inadequacy that Kumar elaborated upon. “We need to recalibrate the booth-level work. In the assembly election, our local leaders and cadre didn’t think booth-level management was important enough. Our president (Amit Shah) said ‘if you follow my 17 guidelines (on organisational micro-management) scrupulously, you can win spectacularly like in Uttar Pradesh’. Otherwise, Karnataka will be like Goa. Unfortunately, we went the Goa way,” he admitted. 

In 2017, the BJP was convinced it would retain Goa that it had swept in 2012. It won only 13 of the 40 seats. Unlike in Karnataka, the BJP gerrymandered the fractured Goa verdict and formed a government with smaller parties and Congress rebels.

For the parliamentary election, the BJP feels that the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance will not work on the ground, giving it an “advantage”. Jagadish Shettar, a former chief minister and Hubballi-Dharwad MLA, said: “On the ground, the JD(S) is anti-Congress. If it goes with the Congress, the BJP will fill in the anti-Congress vacuum.” He said the gambit would take off only if the BJP fielded “strong” candidates.

The quest for “strong” contenders led the BJP to the Congress’ ingress. Last week, it ensnared Baburao Chinchanur, a Gulbarga heavyweight, who masterminded Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge’s elections. “More importantly, he’s from the Koli samaj,” Kumar stressed. 

But to someone like Narayan, candidates hardly mattered. “We don’t care who’s contesting as long as he’s presentable. The election is all about a leader who can lead India,” he said. A view echoed by Eshwarappa, who asserted, “Modi, Hindutva and party organisation are the ingredients for success. The candidate is not so important.”

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