Karnataka Assembly Elections 2018: Why Modi has taken a backseat

Ashok K Singh
Ashok K SinghApr 06, 2018 | 19:11

Karnataka Assembly Elections 2018: Why Modi has taken a backseat

For the first time since he came to power in 2014, the man who led from the front is taking a backseat in a major state election. BJP’s star campaigner and the most formidable among all leaders since Indira Gandhi, Narendra Modi seems to have become wiser.

He doesn’t want to put his personal reputation on line for the fear of getting retired hurt in a semi-final match - the Karnataka state Assembly elections. As the BJP’s lead campaigner, Modi has to keep his resources, energy and reputation intact for the make or break final match - the 2019 showdown.


That’s why, and also in a reversal of the trend, the BJP has put up a chief ministerial candidate in the Karnataka elections. Making BS Yeddyurappa the party's chief ministerial candidate was an admission of the fact that the BJP is on a sticky wicket in Karnataka. Modi has had no option but to revise his strategy for the only southern state where it had earlier held power and where it’s staking claim to win.


Yeddyurappa’s candidature has several disadvantages. The two most obvious minuses are his age and his tainted past. He is 75. That is against the avowed policy of age limit Modi has set for party leaders. BJP stalwarts LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Yashwant Sinha have reasons to be convinced now that they were forced to retire to the Margadarshak Mandal not on account of their age, but their political weight.

Other party leaders, Kalraj Mishra of Uttar Pradesh and Najma Heptullah must also ask why they were eased out of the Cabinet after having turned 75.

The biggest disadvantage of Yeddyurappa is his tainted past. Modi has never minced words in attacking the Congress and other opposition leaders on corruption and has always sought to distinguish the BJP for its so-called clean image. But he bent over backwards to project a leader who had to resign as chief minister of Karnataka in 2011 on corruption charges. It was the BJP central leadership that had forced him to quit after he was found guilty of corruption by a Lokayukta report.


Of course, the decision to project him was dictated by political compulsion even as Yeddyurappa had split the party that resulted in the defeat of the BJP. He formed his own party Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP) after being forced to resign and divided the Lingayats votes that led to the drubbing of the BP in the 2013 Assembly elections.

Modi and Amit Shah were aware what the wily old leader is capable of. Yeddyurappa had famously said after the BJP’s drubbing in 2013, “I have made the BJP realise what it is without me.”

Modi is not leading the campaign in Karnataka unlike Bihar, Jharkhand, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and most recently Gujarat, where the BJP didn’t project chief ministerial candidates and Modi led from the front. That’s because Modi knows the Congress is favourite to win Karnataka. He doesn’t want to take the blame and dent his star campaigner’s image before the Lok Sabha elections.

Yeddyurappa as such is a blessing in disguise for Modi, though not for the BJP. He will wear the cross, not Modi, if the BJP loses Karnataka. 

Yedyyurappa is facing the wrath of his own supporters who followed him into the KJP when he split the BJP, but now fear will be sidelined. Some of them are aspirants for tickets for the seats that the KJP had won in 2013 or the seats it lost marginally. The number of both categories of seats is substantial. The KJP had won six seats, but on as many as 70 seats it was either second or gave close fights to the BJP and the Congress. Those seats have claimants from both the erstwhile KJP as well as the BJP. It’s a problem that threatens to fuel rebellion within the BJP.


If Modi is shaky on Karnataka front, Amit Shah’s repeated fumbling indicates his nervousness. Shah is a backroom strategist, not a mass leader. But thrown into the heat of elections as a front campaigner, he has repeatedly fumbled in public with words that the Congress, including Rahul Gandhi, has latched on to exploit.

On the day the election date was announced, Amit Shah made a gaffe. Referring to chief minister Siddaramaiah, Shah in a slip of tongue remarked, “Recently, a retired Supreme Court judge said if ever there was a competition for the most corrupt government, then the Yeddyurappa government will get number one..” Yeddyurappa wasn’t amused.

More embarrassment was to follow with BJP’s Dharward MP Pralhad Joshi’s gaffe at an election meeting. When Shah attacked Siddaramaiah for having failed to do anything for the SC/ST in Karnataka and promised what Modi would do, Joshi goofed up in translating (from Hindi to Kannada), “Narendra Modi will not do anything for SC/ST sections.” Shah didn’t notice the faux pas and moved on. Joshi too moved on, perhaps, to hide the embarrassment. The audience had the last laugh.

For a party that has been promoting pseudo science and merrily mixing myth with history Amit Shah’s faltering words are being seen as the BJP’s floundering fortunes in Karnataka.

Modi as a smart strategist knows how and when to keep out of rough weather.

Last updated: April 28, 2018 | 14:27
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