Ahead of the 2023 Karnataka Assembly elections, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is working on a multi-pronged approach, with a specific focus on wooing the many communities of the State. BJP strategists describe this as “social engineering” combined with the “promise of development”. They know that retaining power is not easy. In the political history of Karnataka, no ruling party has got re-elected in about three-and-a-half decades. This indicates that it is not easy to beat anti-incumbency. What has made the task tougher for the ruling BJP is the aggressive manner in which the main Opposition party, the Congress, is trying to connect with the people through various measures including the Bharat Jodo Yatra, which passed through the State recently. The other Opposition party, the Janata Dal (Secular), which has the potential to tilt the scales, is keen to retain its hold of the Vokkaliga-dominated areas.
The BJP has been pushed into defensive mode, particularly as it has been facing a slew of corruption charges and irregularities in the recruitment of police sub-inspectors. Recently, the Karnataka State Contractors Association accused the BJP government, parliamentarians, legislators and officials in the State of harassing them to pay a commission of up to 40% on government tenders. Also, a video clip of Municipal Administration Minister N. Nagaraju kicked up a storm. He was purportedly heard speaking to a police officer about inspector Nandeesh, who died of a cardiac arrest, being tense over the “₹70 lakh-₹80 lakh he paid” for the posting. It is in this context that the BJP is banking on “social engineering.”
In a major step, the State Cabinet hiked reservation for Scheduled Castes (SCs) by 2% and Scheduled Tribes (STs) by 4%. The timing of this move was crucial, as it came just before the party launched its State tour, the Jana Sankalpa Yatra. Three teams of State BJP leaders are holding two conventions each per day as a part of this yatra. They have been underlining the hike in reservation at each convention. In addition, the party is also holding eight different State-level conventions of various communities and groups such as the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), STs, SCs, women, youth, farmers, minorities and weavers. While the OBC convention has been held, the convention of STs is scheduled to be held in Ballari on November 20. The BJP is particularly trying to woo OBCs, SCs and STs — communities which the Congress considers the main components of its support base. Now that the Supreme Court has upheld a reservation quota for economically weaker sections, the BJP is gearing up to underline this fact among the upper caste voters.
The party has also devised strategies to attract the powerful Lingayats and Vokkaligas. While the Lingayats form a major support base of the BJP, the Vokkaligas have remained elusive for the party so far. While the BJP is hoping to retain its Lingayat support base, it is now trying to woo the Vokkaligas. The government is all set to unveil a 108-feet bronze statue of Bengaluru founder Kempe Gowda on the Bengaluru International Airport premises, in its attempt to obtain Vokkaliga votes. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will unveil the statue on November 11. To build some momentum for this event, the BJP government has already launched a 45-day campaign during which “holy mud” is being collected from water bodies in all the villages of the State . The party plans to use this mud in developing the theme park that houses the statue. The grand Kumbha Mela hosted by the government in the Vokkaliga heartland of Mandya district in mid-October was also being seen in political circles as an effort to get a political foothold in that part of the State.
In Bengaluru City, which accounts for 28 constituencies of the total 224 in the Assembly, the party is trying to roll out a development agenda through Mr. Thank you. While the Prime Minister announced the suburban rail project for the city during his previous visit, he is going to unveil south India’s first Vande Bharat train, on the Chennai-Bengaluru-Mysuru route, during his visit to Bengaluru on November 11.
It remains to be seen whether this strategy of social engineering mixed with the promise of development will help the BJP buck anti-incumbency as well as fight the charges of corruption.