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Why the BJP won in Karnataka

By Vicky Nanjappa in Bengaluru
May 20, 2009 21:05 IST
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Karnataka was the saving grace for the Bharatiya Janata Party in the otherwise dismal showing in elections 2009. The BJP took everyone by surprise and proved every poll pundit wrong when it bagged 19 out of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka. This in fact is a better performance compared to the 2004 elections when the party won 18 seats only due to the Vajpayee wave.

Ever since the first BJP government in the South was formed a year ago, there have only been problems for the BJP. It started off with the firing on farmers in Haveri in which one farmer was killed. Although the BJP managed to ward away these initial problems, the biggest worry for the party was the church attacks in Mangalore which was followed by the violence against women in pubs.

Although these acts were carried out by the Bajrang Dal and the Shri Ram Sene respectively, the BJP government led by B S Yeddyurappa repeatedly told the people that his government was committed to acting against such violence. While the government managed to cool tempers where the church attacks were concerned people thought that the attack on women at the pub would be the party's Waterloo in Karnataka. However, the BJP managed to prove everyone wrong.

There are five primary reasons why the BJP managed to take Karnataka so easily despite all the hurdles and negative campaigning that took place against it in the state.

Operation Lotus: Immediately after the party came to power in the state, the party launched Operation Lotus in which it managed to lure the cream from both the Congress and the Janata Dal-Secular. At least 17 candidates from both parties were inducted into the BJP. These leaders who crossed over to the BJP have the reputation of winning elections irrespective of the party they belong to. This factor helped the BJP since these floor crossers campaigned extensively for the party.

Honeymoon period: The BJP has been in power in Karnataka for just a year now and hence it had the advantage of a honeymoon period. Explains Sandeep S, a noted psephologist, "The negative campaign against the party has not done any damage to it. The church attacks has not helped the party as is being claimed by some of its leaders. When a government is in power for such a short period, the people generally tend to overlook its mistakes.The people of Karnataka basically have given the BJP a chance to prove itself as they feel that it is too early to judge the party by certain issues that went wrong.

Early campaign: The BJP when compared to the Congress and the JD-S got off to a quick start where campaigning was concerned. The party announced its list of candidates much earlier than the rest of the parties. This fact worked to the advantage of the party. When the BJP had started its campaign, the Congress and the JD-S had not announced their list of candidates.

At first there was a lot of dissidence within the party at the commencement of the polls. The candidature of B Y Raghavendra, son of the chief minister, Janardhan Swamy and Nalin Kumar Kateel did not go down too well with some of the party members. However at the end of it the party worked as a well oiled machine and overcame these problems. The BJP was able to achieve this since it was in power in the state and hence was able to deal with this issue well.

Opposition's attitude: The opposition Congress has only itself to blame for not capitalising on various failures of the BJP in the state. When the election process was announced, each one thought that the BJP would be put on the backfoot by the Congress. However, the Congress failed to capitalise on this factor and continued to remain a hopelessely divided force in Karnataka. Leaders of the party were more interested in safeguarding their factions rather than taking the party forward. There was a lot of infighting over the candidature of Margaret Alva, S Bangarappa, CK Jaffer Sharrief and HT Sangliana. There was a lot of negative campaigning by partymen against these candidatures. The joke in Karnataka is that no one defeats the Congress, but the party defeats itself. Speaking of the third largest party in Karnataka, the JD-S, the campaign was strong and vigorous only in certain parts of the state. The focus was more on Kumaraswamy, Zameer Ahmed and H D Deve Gowda and it seemed as though the party was more interested in winning only these three seats.

Better vote share: The BJP also benefitted immensely from an improvement in vote share. While in 2004, the party had a vote share of 34.8 per cent, this time around the party got 41.6 per cent of the vote. This is a major factor since if compared to the rest of the states, the BJP has not managed to increase its vote share compared to 2004.

The improvement of the party's vote share in Karnataka is also largely due to a sympathy factor for the party in the state. The elections were regarded as BJP vs the rest. A large number of voters especially from the Hindu community felt that the party was being singled out and hence voted for it in large numbers. Take the Dakshin Kannada constituency for instance where no poll pundit got his or her prediction right. Mohan Bhandari, BJP district president says that there was a negative campaign against the party. There were sermons in churches urging the people to vote against the BJP. Voters both young and old were driven into Mangalore and asked to cast their vote against the BJP. However the Hindus in Dakshin Kannada felt that it was an uncessary campaign and decided to come out and vote in favour of the BJP in large numbers and in the bargain created a record of sorts. The polling percentage in Dakshin Kannada is the highest till date with 74.44 per cent of which the BJP got 49.16 per cent of the votes.

While the BJP managed to retain all the 18 seeats that it had won the last time, the party increased its tally by one thanks to delimitation. The new constituency, Bangalore Central was bagged by the BJP this time. The fact that the BJP managed to retain Bangalore, Bangalore-South, Bangalore-North and win Bangalore Central and Dakshin Kannada (formerly Mangalore) is also an indication that most of the urban voters has preferred this party.

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Vicky Nanjappa in Bengaluru