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Operation Lotus redux: Why BJP is so desperate to regain Karnataka

The BJP knows quite well the embarrassment of a failed attempt is a small price to pay for a major shot at 2019.

The BJP knows quite well the embarrassment of a failed attempt is a small price to pay for a major shot at 2019.

Amid the political churning in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha Polls, the Congress-JD(S) government in Karnataka seems to be in a fix.

Two independent legislators, R Shankar and H Nagesh, withdrew their support to the state government, sparking speculation of a renewed push by the BJP for the Southern state.

While the state government is in a comfortable position as far as numbers are concerned, news of several Congress MLAs being in touch with the BJP has alarmed the leadership.

The coalition still has a comfortable majority with 118 legislators, including 37 JD(S) MLAs, one from the Bahujan Samaj Party, and 80 from the Congress, in the 224-seat assembly, which is well above the majority of 113.

The best-case scenario for the BJP would be the resignation of 14 Congress MLAs, bringing the strength of the House down to 210, with the new halfway mark of 106.

The BJP, with the support of the two independents, already has this number.

While the Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy has accused the BJP of trying to topple his government, the BJP, after initially alleging horse-trading attempts from the coalition, has already shifted its 104 MLAs to a resort in Gurugram.

With 28 seats on offer, the BJP can hardly dismiss the state, especially in the wake of an impending close fight where every seat will matter. (Photo: PTI)

In what is being seen as Operation Lotus 2.0 – alleged attempts were made by the BJP in 2008 to effect desertion by Opposition MLAs to ensure the stability of its own government – the state is faced with more political turmoil after failing to deliver a decisive verdict in 2018 and the post-poll formation of the Congress-JD(S) government, when the BJP had victory snatched away from it despite emerging as the single largest party

While the Congress may have given up the CM's chair just to keep arch rival BJP from winning over one more state, dissatisfaction among the coalition MLAs has been silently brewing over cabinet berths and portfolio allocations.

But, with barely a few months to go for the 2019 Lok Sabha Polls, why is the BJP getting so desperate to win over Karnataka?

Won't another failure further dent its own image just before the polls?

The answer may lie precisely with the upcoming polls.

The ruling BJP would want its own govenment in Karnataka before the Lok Sabha polls. It will not only give it greater visibility in the minds of voters, but will also break the seeming winning streak of the Congress-led Opposition, that is trying every strategy to keep the saffron outfit out of power.

With 28 seats on offer, the party can hardly dismiss the state, especially in the wake of an impending close fight where every seat will matter.

While the BJP won 17 seats in Karnataka in the 2014 Lok Sabha Polls, followed by the Congress with 9 seats and the JD(S) with 2, the party had actually reduced its tally by 2, while the Congress had gained 3 seats. Party strategists say, it could have done much better if it had been in power in the state at the time of the elections.

Since the 2014 polls, the BJP has been trying to increase its political footprint across the country, with major success, especially in the North East. The party has already become the principal opposition in several states, regularly grabbing headlines, and setting the narrative.

Getting Karnataka will break the seeming winning streak of a Congress-led Opposition. (Photo: PTI)

With hardly any major political clout in the states of Tamil Nadu (the principal players still remain DMK and AIADMK) and Kerala (with a strong Left government), forming a government in Karnataka will be a major shot in the BJP's Southern plans.

The state of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are already seeing the emergence of strong regional players, with Chandrababu Naidu's TDP in talks with the Congress, leaving TRS' K Chandrashekhar Rao, who has just swept the state, talking about a Third Front.

Faced with the recent defeat in the Hindi heartland, the BJP would want to reassure its supporters while pushing a resurgent Congress onto the back foot.

With the formation of the SP-BSP alliance in Uttar Pradesh and the impending opposition alliance in Bihar, the party can ill afford appearing weak in the minds of the voters.

With regional satraps increasingly getting into strategic alliances to keep both the BJP and the Congress out of power, the ruling party is faced with a tougher challenge in reaching the magic mark of 272.

One more state in its kitty would push it further towards this goal.

The BJP knows quite well, the embarrassment of a failed attempt is a small price to pay for a major shot at 2019.

Also read: Why the next political moves for 2019 will take place on Bihar's chessboard 

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