Violent contradiction in Karnataka society

The rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Karnataka and the corresponding decline of other political forces is causing violent contradiction in Karnataka society. This is evident in the rise of forces like Sri Ram Sene and the Hindu Jagarana Vedike. A police probe is still on but Gauri Lankesh could have been a victim of this process.

How did we get to where we are? The electoral history of the BJP in Karnataka goes back to 1983. Amarnath Govindarajan has described its evolution and history comprehensively in Swarajya magazine. According to him, the principal architect of the party in this period was U Rama Bhat, who worked relentlessly from his constituency, Puttur, and built up the party in the Mangalore plains. This area already had a strong Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) presence (raised to protect locals against migrant Muslims from Kerala). Consequently, even before 1980, the BJP and the RSS had a reasonable influence in farmer lobbies, because many farmers joined the RSS for “safety”.

Building up the party in the erstwhile Dakshina Kannada and Uttar Kannada districts, the Rama Bhat-led BJP managed 18 seats in Karnataka in the 1983 Assembly election for the first time, winning about eight per cent of the popular vote. Govindarajan says Dhananjaya Kumar (Mangalore), Rukmayya Poojary (Vittla), Vasanth Bangera (Belthangady), and V S Acharya (Udupi), and D V Sadananda Gowda (Puttur), were some of the leaders. The BJP had arrived in the state, but was still limited to only a very small region on the west coast. N Gangadhar from Krishnaraja in Mysore and B S Yeddyurappa from Shikaripura in Shimoga also had some influence but not beyond their areas.

Although the BJP had entered arecanut, cashew and coffee planters’ associations on the west coast, it still had little influence in the big farmer lobbies. The 1985 elections all but wiped out the party, including in Mangalore. It could get only two Assembly seats. By the 1989 Assembly elections, the party had bounced back. It got 118 seats.

By 1991, the rise of Hindutva had caught the imagination of the Bangalore elite. Yeddyurappa played honest broker in providing an interface between the big community Mathas, especially the Lingayat ones, in assuring them the BJP was a better bet in defending their interests. The 1991 Lok Sabha elections elected four BJP members of Parliament from Karnataka for the first time. By the time the 1994 Assembly elections came round, the BJP took advantage of the base it had created in the previous elections and gained from an anti-Congress wave much more than the Janata Dal could, barring the old Mysore region, dominated by Vokkaligas led by H D Deve Gowda.

The BJP now had something to build on. Urban centres such as Bangalore, Mysore and Hubli, the coastal plains and the Malnad regions of Karnataka now became hives of BJP activity. The Hubli-Dharwad region gained from the Idgah Maidan controversy. In this phase, Yeddyurappa played a stellar role. In the 1996 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP retained Bangalore South, Mangalore and Bidar and wrested Davanagere, Dharwad North and Uttar Kannada (all regions where it had won seats in the previous Assembly elections).

By now the Janata Dal/Lok Shakti floated by Ramakrishna Hegde was falling apart. Riding piggyback on him, the BJP aided the dissolution of the Janata Dal. Several Janata Dal leaders, especially in North Karnataka, joined the BJP. Around this time, leaders from farmer organisations also entered the BJP — the charm of the Janata Dal had gone. The Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha added the support of sugar barons of the region. This made the BJP strong in the Belgaum-Bijapur-Bagalkot region.

But the merger of the Janata Dal and the BJP was fraught with difficulty. In 1999, the BJP could not protect itself from the incumbency taint of the J H Patel government and was crushed. The Congress reclaimed Karnataka.

By 2004, the party was able to get itself together and put up a united and spectacular performance. It won 79 seats not only in its old strongholds, but also expanded into old Janata Dal areas. But expansion was rapid — too rapid. This was not the BJP, but a collection of ambitious leaders. With the induction of the Reddy brothers and other unsavoury characters, its old supporters did not recognise the new BJP.

Then came the alliance between the BJP and H D Kumaraswamy, which burnt and crashed. The 2008 elections catapulted the BJP to power, but Yeddyurappa set his terms: The party would go the way he wanted it to go — or not at all. This limited the scope of growth and the central leadership looked the other way as Yeddyurappa demolished one leader after another to assert his supremacy. 

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