Bangalore: Political parties in Karnataka have donned war paint and started strategizing, with the Election Commission announcing dates for state polls to be held in three phases—on 10, 16 and 22 May.
The Congress party, in particular, is keeping a wary eye on the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which is expected to dent its vote bank.
P.G.R. Sindhia, till recently a trusted lieutenant of former prime minster and Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), leader H.D. Deve Gowda, has joined the BSP as its national general secretary and will be spearheading the party’s poll campaign.
Sindhia, who quit JD(S) saying that the party had become a fiefdom of Gowda and his family, started his political career in the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He has held several portfolios during his career, including home, industries and transportation.
In the last assembly election in 2004, the BSP got 1.75% of the votes polled and did not send any members (MLAs) to the legislative assembly. The only time it had a legislative presence was way back in 1994.
Sindhia is hoping to do better. He says BSP will get anywhere between 8% and 12% of the votes and the elephant’s trumpet will be heard in the state assembly.
The BSP leader belongs to the Kunbi Maratha caste, classified under the other backward castes (OBC) in the state. He is hoping to stitch together a sarva samaj (inclusive society) coalition of Brahmins, backward classes and Dalits, even as the BJP banks heavily on the Lingayats and Congress on Vokkaligas, the two dominant landowning castes in the state.
In a chat with Mint, Sindhia outlined the BSP’s strategy to emerge as an important player. Edited excerpts:
What is your reading of the state’s political situation?
People are fed up with all the three main parties—Congress, BJP and JD(S).
The BSP will go to the polls with a sarva samaj message of including people of all castes and religions.
There is a feeling that unlike in north India, where the backward castes did not have a voice till the rise of Kanshi Ram and Mayawati, Karnataka has been more egalitarian in its approach, being the first state to introduce reservation way back in 1924. So, caste politics might not have they same appeal here.
P.G.R Sindhia, national general secretary, BSP (Photo by: Hemant Mishra / Mint)
While I agree that Karnataka has been more progressive and egalitarian, there is still a gap.
In UP (Uttar Pradesh), the gap may be more and in Karnataka, the gap is less. But when the Dalits, OBC and minorities compare themselves with the major communities, they feel let down.
While a small section may vote for other parties, (the) majority will go to Mayawati.
Outside of you, BSP in Karnataka doesn’t have any recognizable leader. Have you tried to attract other leaders?
The BSP is an organization which, next only to RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), has a committed cadre. More than leaders, it is the cadre who are important.
Already, about 10 ex-MLAs, such as (S.L.) Dharmappa of Sagar, Srinivas from Yelahanka, Krishnappa from Bannur, Prakash from Chickpet and Syed Zulfeqar Hashmi of Bidar, have come with us .
I have been talking to some people who are dissatisfied with their existing organization and are ideologically with the BSP. I have been in touch with them. I cannot reveal names now, but you will see things developing shortly.
Do you think you can make a serious impact?
The BSP got 1.75% of votes polled in the last assembly elections in 2004, even though we contested from only about 100 seats. We got about 5% votes in 30 constituencies.
This time, we will contest most of the 224 seats and our vote share will grow in multiples. The elephant’s trumpet will be heard in the assembly. There will be no alliance or any kind of tactical understanding with anybody.
Who is the party’s No.1 adversary in the state?
Do you think BSP can come to power on its own?
I am aware that it’s not possible in this (election) for BSP to come to power. Assembly elections are only semi-finals. Our goal is the 2009 Lok Sabha (parliamentary) elections, and I’m working towards that.
Will BSP’s role be that of a spoiler?
No, I dont think so. Even if it is, we will affect both the Congress and the BJP equally. The BSP will get more than 10 MLAs, but our percentage of votes will go up dramatically. We will get 8-12% of the votes cast.
Assuming a hung assembly, would the BSP go with the Congress or the BJP ?
Our aim is the parliamentary elections, not assembly. We will keep them at equal distance and remain neutral.