Last year, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) regained control of Karnataka after a year of political drama featuring mass defections, horse-trading charges and the eventual breakdown of the ruling Congress-Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), alliance. The final act of the drama came when 11 out of the 17 disqualified Congress-JD(S) legislators got re-elected as BJP MLAs, leading to the BJP forming the government in the state. More than political opportunism, this defection and re-election was part of the BJP’s strategy to broaden its social base and cement its presence in the state, suggests a Economic and Political Weekly study by Valerian Rodrigues, a former fellow of the Indian Council of Social Science Research.
The BJP’s strategy in Karnataka’s caste-ridden politics has been to attract broad-based support across castes, Rodrigues argues. The rebel MLAs were particularly important for this because they came from a range of different castes such as Brahmins, Lingayat–Veerashaivas, Vokkaligas, and other backward castes. The party has previously struggled to attract support from many of these communities, despite being a strong political force in the state. Since 2008, Karnataka’s vote share had also been evenly split between the BJP and Congress. In the absence of a dominant voter base, the party considered it important to be not viewed as favouring a particular community.
The defections were also strategically aimed at weaning away the support that the Congress and the JD(S) enjoyed in southern Karnataka and hurting key leaders such as Siddaramaiah who are popular among the large Kuruba community and backward castes in the state. Through these defections, the BJP weakened the social base of both the Congress and the JD(S), while successfully navigating the caste-based politics of Karnataka, the author concludes.
Also read: Politics of Defections and BJP Strategy in Karnataka