New Delhi: With less than six months remaining for Karnataka Legislative Assembly polls, the Bharatiya Janata Party is on the back foot with the politically significant Vokkaliga community demanding a piece of the reservation pie.
The saffron front is treading carefully as the BJP wants to make a comeback in its southern Indian bastion in the 2023 Assembly polls. The return to power in Karnataka will be crucial as the party plans to expand its footprint in the south in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
The party’s endeavour is to seek the support of the Vokkaliga community, essential as it comprises an estimated 20% of the state’s population, making it the second biggest community and one of the most powerful vote banks. Only the population of the influential Lingayat community is bigger in Karnataka.
With back-to-back Chief Ministers hailing from the Lingayat community, BS Yediyurappa and Basavaraj Bommai, the BJP is believed to be close to the Lingayats. And it would be an uphill task to change the perception, sources said.
Sources stated that the BJP leadership is likely to take a soft view on the demand for the Vokkaliga reservation as it wants to refrain from antagonizing the influential vote bank. “Backchannel talks are likely to be opened soon. Senior leadership is understood to be in touch with Swami Nirmalananda of the influential Adichunchanagiri Mutt,” sources said. Swami Nirmalananda has set a deadline of January 23 for Karnataka chief minister Basavaraj Bommai to take a final decision on increasing the quota for members of the community.
BJP feels that the demand for Vokkaliga reservation is being fueled by Congress which wants to divide the Hindu vote on caste lines and has pointed a figure at party leader DK Shivakumar, a Vokkaliga leader from the Old Mysuru region.
“We understand that several senior leaders of the Congress are in touch with various Vokkaliga leaders and are trying to inflame passions,” alleged a senior BJP leader. However, the party feels that if the issue is tackled timely and properly it can be nipped in the bud and the attempts at dividing the Hindu votes would not be successful, sources added.
The 224-member Karnataka Legislative Assembly is set to go for polls ahead of May 2023. With a population of about 20% in the state, the Vokkaliga community can affect the outcome of polls in at least 80 Assembly constituencies.
The issue is very important and has been brought to the notice of the top central leadership of the party. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief JP Nadda are understood to have been apprised of the situation by the party's state leaders.
Why all is not well for BJP in Karnataka
The Bharatiya Janata Party is planning a massive expansion in South India with an eye on the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. The party has set a target of winning 100 seats in Lok Sabha from the five southern states of the country.
Currently, the BJP has a strong base in Karnataka and it has been able to keep its stronghold of Hindu vote share after controversies over Tipu Sultan and Hijab. However, the saffron party is fearful that this latest demand could end up dividing its vote base.
Moreover, the BJP is already facing a crisis in its only southern stronghold with murmurs of former chief minister BS Yediyurappa being unhappy with the party. It is learnt that Yediyurappa has also made his displeasure known to the central leadership over his sidelining in the party.
Karnataka was the first state to have elected a BJP government in South India and is considered to be immensely important for the BJP which plans to expand its base in southern India.