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Bugbear to Bastion? In Run-Up to Polls, BJP Looks to Court Vokkaligas to Paint Old Mysore Region Saffron

Karnataka’s Old Mysore region has been the BJP’s Achilles’ heel. This time around, the party has made it their ‘foremost agenda’ to win the confidence and votes of this Vokkaliga-dominated area that has traditionally voted in favour of the JDS and the Congress.

Even though the BJP has managed to expand and strengthen its base across the state, the Old Mysore region has remained quite impenetrable despite concerted efforts by central and state leadership over the last few decades.

In 2008 (110 seats) and 2018 (104 seats), the BJP fell short of a full majority owing to its inability to gain ground in the region. It accounts for 59 assembly seats of which the BJP has won only nine in the 2018 elections.

The Old Mysore region consists of the districts of Mysuru, Chamarajanagar, Bengaluru Rural, Kolar, Chikkaballapur, Mandya, Hassan and Tumakuru and is dominated by the Vokkaligas who account for close to 16 per cent of the state’s voting population.

Vokkaligas are the second-most influential vote bank after the Lingayats in Karnataka and the BJP has not been able to crack the local vote bank in their favour.

This time, the party has decided to go aggressive. In a multi-pronged strategy that has been devised by the BJP leadership, the Karnataka state leaders have been asked to immediately activate and energise the local ‘karyakartas’ in the region, identify key voters and leaders from the Vokkaliga community and convince them to get into the party fold. They have also been asked to keep a keen eye on distraught leaders from other parties who would be ready to join the BJP.

After Amit Shah’s visit to Karnataka last week as the state prepares for elections this year, party insiders told News18 that the Union Home Minister has impressed upon all the senior Vokkaliga BJP leaders such as CN Ashwath Narayan, CT Ravi, and Dr K Sudhakar to camp in these areas and convince the local voters of the national party’s agenda of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’.

“The BJP cadre is energised and Amit Shah-ji’s visit to the Mandya and Old Mysore region has given us an impetus to go the full hog. Our energies will be spent more in that area. To come back as a single majority, we need the region to favour us,” said BJP spokesperson Capt Ganesh Karnik.

A party insider said the meeting with Shah and state leaders discussed the practical problem faced by the party in every election.

“The party has realised that Karnataka needs a special strategy to get a clear majority in the state and at least 25-30 seats in the Old Mysore region. The Vokkaliga community that dominates the region is slowly opening to us as a stable alternative and we plan to encash on that. We will come to power with full majority and the party leadership has realised that coalitions do not work in our state,” said another senior party leader who was part of the core meeting with Shah.

To bolster its chances in the region, the BJP has deployed four senior ministers in the Old Mysore region to bring local Vokkaliga leaders into its fold from “panchayat to Parliament”.

“We will show them how the party walks the talk. We have a solid report card to back our claims. We have given Vokkaliga leaders key posts as ministers and they are also well-represented in the Centre. The BJP is about taking everybody on board and working towards their well-being. They should realise that other parties like the Congress and JDS have been using them for electoral gains during elections and their gains after elections,” said BJP national general secretary CT Ravi.

In the run-up to implementing this strategy to win over the second-most politically influential community, the BJP seems to have pulled out all stops. One such major event was the unveiling of the 108-feet-tall bronze statue of Nadaprabhu Kempegowda — called the ‘Statue of Prosperity’ — in Bengaluru in November last year. Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew into the city during the Gujarat election campaign to be part of this massive outreach.

Kempegowda is considered the founder of modern-day Bengaluru and is a Vokkaliga icon. As a build-up to the event, BJP leaders were seen hopping across the state in helicopters and collecting “mrittika” (holy soil) from more than 22,000 places to develop a garden around the statue.

The BJP has been deriving confidence in its ability to breach Vokkaliga fortress Mandya with the win in the KR Pete by-election in Mandya in 2019. All seven seats in Mandya were traditionally won by the JDS, a party that makes no bones about calling itself the representative of the Vokkaligas. The KR Pete seat was held by KC Narayana Gowda who switched sides to the BJP and won the by-election, giving the BJP the much-needed foot-in.

Dr K Sudhakar, the state health minister who represents the Chikkaballapur constituency — another Vokkaliga bastion — feels that with leaders like himself shifting to the BJP, they have taken up the challenge to bring in more Vokkaliga faces and voters in the party fold.

“In my constituency which has 19 seats, I am the only BJP leader who has been elected. So I am hopeful this time we will make significant inroads. We plan to grow by onboarding leaders from other parties into the BJP and using them to gain the voter’s confidence in the BJP. The time is too short to grow organically as of now,” Sudhakar told News18.

While playing up Modi’s charisma, the BJP will also focus on twin planks of development and Hindutva, explained Ravi. The party, however, is deeply concerned about losing its voters in the traditional pockets due to the scams and corruption campaigns that are plaguing the ruling government.

“The scam is being thoroughly investigated as ordered by our CM Basavraj Bommai. The corruption charges are just allegations and the Opposition cannot prove a thing,” said a BJP minister.

However, the election pitch was raised when Shah, during his Karnataka trip, said the state would become the “ATM of a family if JD(S) was voted to power”. Former Karnataka chief minister and JDS leader HD Kumaraswamy hit back, claiming that the 2023 elections were the “beginning of the end” of the BJP in the state.

“Amit Shah’s games don’t work in front of me. Amit Shah is not even equal to HD Devegowda’s toenails,” Kumaraswamy struck back, taking the attack on the JDS personally.

The JDS has traditionally been the loyal party of the people and farmers of Karnataka and no Modi or Shah charisma will work, JDS state president C Ibrahim told News18.

“It is just Deve Gowda-ji and Kumaraswamy-ji who are the people’s leaders. The JDS has won more than 60 seats in elections and we have no qualms about our future. The BJP has got a report that the JDS is very strong in the Old Mysore region and is getting stronger in the new Mysore region. They are flustered because of this,” he said.

“Hamein na Modi ki chinta hai, na Amit Shah ki na Sonia Gandhi ki. Hum apne development programmes par ladenge. [We are not worried about PM Modi, Amit Shah or Sonia Gandhi. We will fight on the strength of our development programmes.] I challenge the BJP to win a single seat,” Ibrahim added.​

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