The Headlines Today-C Voter survey of the election prospects in the forthcoming assembly elections has thrown up some interesting points for debate.

Overall, the Poll predicts that Congress would form the Government with 118 seats in the next assembly with BJP getting 52, JD(S) getting 35 and KJP getting about 12 seats.

What is surprising is that the Congress is expected to gain from 80 seats in the current assembly to 118 though their vote share is likley to drop by 1% from 35% to 34%. BJP on the otherhand is likely to lose a vote share of 6% from 34% to 28% resulting in the fall of seats from 110 seats to 80 seats. JD(S) retains the vote share of 19% but gains in seats from 28 to 35. KJP with a vote share of 8% is predicted to gain about 12 seats for the first time in the State.

The additional information generated in the survey is that Mr Modi has a huge good will in the State and 64% of the voters feel that he will make a difference to the outcome. This means that he has the potential on his own to shrink the vote share loss from 6% to some thing lower.

A question has been raised in the political circles whether it is wise for Mr Modi to plunge into a serious campaign in a losing election. Another point made is that the survey results show that Mr Yeddyurappa is a strong leader and has the ability to cause the defeat of BJP and hence , BJP should compromise with him before the next LokSabha elections.

In the light of the above opinions I would like to place a few more thoughts for debate.

First and foremost it is not correct to consider that the fall in the vote share of BJP is only because Mr Yeddyurappa left the party with his supporters. Mr Yeddyurappa left under circumstances where he was tainted with an image of corruption. (It is immaterial if the charges will be proved untrue some time in future). The only sympathy some had for him was that there were greater sinners in the country who never got punished but Yeddyurappa had to bear more than proportionate punishment.

Many supporters of BJP had the opinion that he should have resigned as soon as charges were made against him and work to come back after a break. Instead, Yeddyurappa showed that he was a stickler for power and this image was further reinforced by his attitude of retaining his supporters in the BJP Government some of them as ministers long after KJP had been formed. He has also nursed his image as a “Lingayat leader” so much  that he is considered “Anti-Vokkaliga” by inference. He is therefore considered as an undesirable leader in the present context. In the event BJP and KJP come together after the Assembly poll and before the Loksabha poll, their vote shares of 28% and 8% will not add up to 36%. It may actually fall below 28%.

After Yeddyurappa’s exit there was a good opportunity for BJP to re build its image with a leader who was not corrupt. But the Central BJP which was being led by Mr Gadkari at that time made further mistakes by misreading the situation in Karnataka. Though Mr D.V.Sadananda Gowda was doing a reasonable job of rebuilding the image of BJP , his replacement with Mr Jagadish Shettar created a further set back to the BJP image. It showed that the party was still in the hands of Mr Yeddyurappa and Mr Sadananda Gowda was being replaced by Mr Shettar at Mr Yeddyurappa’s behest. At this point of time BJP made an unwise commitment to maintain the party as a “Lingayat’s party” and the image of the party as a “Corrupt party” got only replaced with “Lingayat only” image. It therefore lost whatever support it had with the vokkaliga community which is getting consolidated with JD(S).

The next mistake which contributed to the downfall of BJP was committed by Mr Jagadish Shettar who proved himself to be a weak leader.  Allowing KJP supporters to remain in BJP and keep sabotaging the image of the party was one of the biggest mistakes that he committed. To cap it all he mishandled a great opportunity which came his way during the Cauvery water issue. By neither taking a strong pro-state stand like Mr Deve Gowda nor trying to at least show a semblance of effort to convince the agitated farmers, he completely abdicated his responsibility to Govern.In fact he hid himself from the public and surreptitiously surrendered the State’s interests . This attitude  has made him and BJP a big Zero in the Cauvery belt.

Thus, three mistakes namely “Corruption” of Mr Yeddyurappa, “Caste” based policies of the Central  leadership and “Non Governance” of Mr Jagadish Shettar have all contributed to the fall of the BJP support base by 6%.

The survey seems to have forgotten the issues of “Non Governance” and “Cauvery Issue” as parameters of influence in the elections and hence has not captured the required information that would have provided a better insight to the reasons for the fall in the voter preference. Which factor has caused more damage than the other in the vote share loss of 6% is difficult to say now.

The above analysis is important for BJP to ascertain what it needs to do in the light of the survey findings.

There is one school of thought which feels that Mr Modi should not take a plunge in the elections as he is unlikely to change the fortunes of BJP in Karnataka significantly and hence there is no reason why he should taint his  image.

While there is some logic in this thought, we must remember that the poll has also indicated that nearly 64% feel that Modi can make a difference. This indicates that the only ray of hope that BJP can sight is in bringing the Modi factor to the elections.

Let us remember that at this point of time the whole world has given the election to Congress and if BJP loses even after Mr Modi making an attempt, it would be only a foregone conclusion. Just as Congress may say that “Modi has failed”, BJP can defend saying “Local factors were in play”. Further when Mr Modi aspires for national campaign, there will be several states in which he will still be rejected and therefore loss of Karnataka will have to be taken in its stride.

On the other hand if Modi can make a difference, then a part of or whole of the 6% voter  share loss may be recovered.

But..if BJP takes this route and decides to put Mr Modi in to the campaign, then they should strengthen his hands completely so that it would not be a half hearted effort.

Mr Modi should be allowed to make the  campaign along with the promise that he is capable of bringing change in the State. If Mr Modi campaigns for Jagadish Shettar, then it is clear that people will not respond favourably because they know what Mr Shettar is capable of. The same thing will hold good for any of the current leaders including say Mr Eshwarappa or R Ashoka .

By rejecting the current set of leaders including Mr Shettar who was a nominee of Mr Yeddyurappa, BJP can try to completely erase the ill effects of Yeddyurappa’s “Corrupt” image. This will neutralize the first factor for erosion of voter base discussed earlier.

Mr Modi’s image is that of a “Good Administrator” and what he can bring as a promise is to bring the same efficient Governance to Karnataka. This will counter the “Third Factor” mentioned above.

Simultaneously, BJP should attack the second factor mentioned above by completely breaking itself away from thoughts such as  that North Karnataka prefers a Lingayat Chief Minister while the South Karnataka prefers a Vokkaliga Chief Minsiter or a Backward caste Chief Minister is a best bet etc..

Instead they should take a “Caste and Community Neutral” approach to the selection of the prospective Chief Ministerial candidate. His choice should therefore be solely defendable on the basis of ability for “Good Governance”.

With all the fanfare, Yeddyurappa was not able to convert his Lingayat vote bank to more than 8% vote share. This only means that Lingayats are not fools who would not see what is good for the State. Hence jettisoning the “Lingayat” image is unlikely to cause any significant damage to the prospects of BJP.

Such a “Caste and Community neutral approach” will provide credibility to the promise of “Modi Formula of success” being introduced in Karnataka.

Further Mr Modi’s hands would be strengthened if he approaches the Karnataka voters not as a “Chief Minister of Gujarat” but as a “Prospective National Leader”. By such an approach the

possibility of some mischievous elements trying to oppose him on “Kannadiga pride” basis would be low. The decision for this lies with the BJP central body lead by Mr Rajnath Singh. BJP at the national level has to take a plunge right now to declare Mr Modi as the next PM candidate since there is no better candidate in BJP at this point of time. If after the Lok Sabha elections, the strength of BJP is inadequate and an alliance has to be formed in which he is not preferred, finding another PM candidate can always be addressed.

In summary, what I am advocating is that the fall of 6% vote share of BJP as indicated in the poll is not as disheartening as it feels at present. It is attributable to three different aspects including Yeddyurappa’s exit, Non Governance of Shettar Governemnt and the over dependence on the Lingayat image.

If all these issues are addressed along with Mr Modi taking a serious role in the campaign along with a new Community neutral Local leader, then BJP can salvage some if not all the vote share they have lost  now.

We can remember that of the 28% voter share of BJP at present nothing will be lost because Mr Modi campaigns. However some of the vote shares of Congress can come to BJP because of him. It could be 2% or more.  It is therefore a no loss, possible gain situation if Mr Modi makes an entry into the campaign. It is a risk worth taking for BJP. If a new neutral leader is found, then this should tilt the balance in favour of BJP decisively.

Vijayashankar

As a voter

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