The Countdown

An absence of leaders with wide appeal makes for an unpredictable political field in Karnataka

01 June 2017
The induction into the BJP of SM Krishna, a veteran Congress leader in Karnataka, seemed like a political coup. But the move failed to yield electoral dividends in bypolls held in April.
vipin kumar / hindustan times / getty images

On 22 March, SM Krishna, the former Congress leader in Karnataka, joined the Bharatiya Janata Party at a ceremony held in the party’s national headquarters in Delhi. It was a typically muddled ritual. The party president, Amit Shah, gifted Krishna a shawl, various lackeys confusedly passed bouquets around, and the two leaders smiled awkwardly long for cameras.

Krishna’s entry was a significant boost for the BJP. The party had just scored a massive victory in the Uttar Pradesh election, and was strategising for upcoming polls—particularly in Karnataka, which will hold an assembly election early next year, and is the only southern state in which the BJP has ever held power. Krishna, a former Karnataka chief minister and union cabinet minister, is a prominent leader in the state, and the party’s success in wooing him boded well for its prospects against the ruling Congress.

Several other factors, too, seemed to align in the BJP’s favour. No party had been voted in for two consecutive terms in power in Karnataka since 1985. The incumbent Congress government, under Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, has had a largely unremarkable term: it has avoided ignominy, but has no striking achievements to show off. The ruling party had also been hit by desertions of leaders other than Krishna, including the former state minister Kumara Bangarappa and the former member of parliament Jayaprakash Hegde. The saffron party’s rise in the state, and the Congress’s downward spiral, appeared inevitable.

Narayana A is an associate professor with the school of policy and governance, Azim Premji University, Bengaluru. He writes on issues of politics and governance in both Kannada and English.

Keywords: Congress BJP Deve Gowda BS Yeddyurappa Siddaramaiah Janata Dal (Secular) SM Krishna