With legislative assembly elections in the state of Karnataka just weeks away, politicians are preparing for an ugly battle for a state whose political future looks wide open.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be hard pressed to hang on to its lead in the state after its once tight-knit leadership ranks frayed under corruption charges and infighting. Given their recent poor performance in the urban local body elections, they might have much to worry about.
“Infighting cost us. KJP (Karnataka Janata Paksha) and BSR Congress also took away our votes,” said state Higher Education Minister C.T. Ravi. But they don’t appear to be too unhappy because only about 30 percent of the state electorate was eligible to vote in the local polls.
Maybe they should be worried. The BJP’s likely candidate for prime minister in next year’s elections, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, didn’t show up for the beginning of statewide campaigning, though party leaders in Karnataka said that Modi will show up later to rally the base. The party needs to worry about this because Karnataka is its gateway to southern India, a region with a separate linguistic and cultural identity than the north, and one that accounts for some 20 percent of the country’s land mass and population. Regional groups often dominate the southern states rather than national parties, and without Karnataka, the BJP risks having no real, dominant presence in the South.
The BJP has had a tenuous reign in Karnataka. It came to power in 2008 and chose the charismatic and outspoken B.S. Yeddyurappa as chief minister. But infighting was there from the start, and breakaway groups sapped at the party’s influence. Yeddyurappa, who was forced out of the party in 2011 over accusations of illegal land deals and corruption, formed the KJP, while another disgruntled member, B Sriramulu, formed the BSR Congress. Both factions no doubt took votes from the BJP in the recent elections.