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In Karnataka fray, factional feuds a key chink in BJP armour as defectors eye Congress door

There is a widespread perception in state BJP, fuelled by Yediyurappa-affiliated leaders’ exits, that the party infighting is posing the biggest threat to its bid to return to power in May 10 Assembly polls.

U B Banakar (left) is a former BJP MLA of the Hirekerur who joined the Congress in December 2023, and Kiran Kumar (right) is an ex-BJP MLA from Tumkur, who joined the Congress in FebruaryU B Banakar (left) is a former BJP MLA of the Hirekerur who joined the Congress in December 2023, and Kiran Kumar (right) is an ex-BJP MLA from Tumkur, who joined the Congress in February. (Photos from their Facebook pages)
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In Karnataka fray, factional feuds a key chink in BJP armour as defectors eye Congress door
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Among the new faces in the Congress party’s first list of candidates for the Karnataka Assembly polls are two leaders from the Lingayat community who are considered close associates of the BJP veteran and ex-chief minister B S Yediyurappa.

The Congress list of 124 candidates, which the party released on March 25, features the names of U B Banakar, a former BJP MLA of the Hirekerur constituency (1994 and 2013), who joined the Congress in December 2022, and Kiran Kumar, an ex-BJP MLA from the erstwhile Kallambella constituency (2004) in Tumkur, who joined the Congress in February and is being fielded from Chikkanayakanahalli in the same district.

Both Banakar and Kiran Kumar are considered to be close associates of Yediyurappa. Banakar was even a winner in the 2013 polls as a candidate of the Karnataka Janata Party (KJP) — floated by Yediyurappa in 2012 when he had broken away from the BJP for two years.

While the exit of Banakar, 62, and Kiran Kumar, 59, is linked to the emergence of new BJP candidates in Hirekerur and Chikanayakanahalli — agriculture minister B C Patil and law minister J C Madhuswamy respectively — the failure of the ruling party to retain some of its key leaders highlights one of its major weaknesses ahead of the polls scheduled for May 10.

Apart from Banakar and Kiran Kumar, at least two other Yediyurappa-affiliated leaders from the Lingayat community, ex-MLC Mohan Limbikai and H D Thammaiah, have joined the Congress over the last two months, hoping to take on the BJP nominees in the Hubbali-Dharwad West and Chikamagalur seats.

While Limbikai is expecting the Congress ticket against the BJP’s Arvind Bellad, Thammaiah is hoping that the party would field him against the BJP’s national general secretary C T Ravi. Bellad was among the BJP leaders in the race as replacement for Yediyurappa as CM in 2021, when the Lingayat stalwart was forced to make way for a younger leader.

There is a widespread perception in the state BJP camp, fuelled by the exits of Yediyurappa-affiliated leaders, that the raging factional feuds in the party, which the central leadership has not been able to contain, is posing the biggest threat to its bid to return to power in the polls.

These squabbles came to the fore again recently when two rival BJP groups raised slogans for and against M P Kumaraswamy, the MLA from Mudigere in Chikamagaluru district, ahead of a BJP Vijay Sankalp Yatra meeting there with Yediyurappa and C T Ravi in attendance. Yediyurappa had to cancel the meeting and leave Mudigere in a huff. The rift between the BJP leaders there involves pro-Yediyurappa M P Kumaraswamy and his rivals allegedly allied with Ravi, who are seeking to oust Kumaraswamy from the fray.

A few days before the Mudigere fracas, Ravi had asserted that the call on the BJP’s candidates would not be taken by the Yediyurappa camp. “Just remember one thing, the decision on candidates will not be taken in anyone’s kitchen. Nobody will get a ticket because they are somebody’s son. The decision on the ticket will also not be taken in the home of the aspirant,” Ravi had said on March 14 in a dig at Yediyurappa and his younger son B Y Vijayendra’s bids to secure a ticket for the latter.


Ravi was reportedly pulled up by Union Home Minister Amit Shah for these remarks. Shah also paid a visit to Yediyurappa’s home for breakfast to put up a public display of support for him and his son.

There are suggestions from the BJP leaders that a recent crackdown by the Lokayukta police on corruption involving a BJP MLA Madal Virupakshappa and his son for graft is linked to alleged moves to keep Virupakshappa, who is also close to Yediyurappa, away from the polls.

According to political observers, the state BJP is divided into multiple factions led by Yediyurappa, the party’s national general secretary (organisation) B L Santhosh, CM Basavaraj Bommai, and a group loyal to the central leadership.

“The BJP has not been able to set its house in order. The Congress which was expected to see heavy infighting due to the rivalry between Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader and ex-CM Siddaramaiah and Karnataka Congress chief D K Shivakumar seems to be handling the situation more effectively. The Congress leaders are putting up a better front of unity than the BJP,” a senior government functionary said.


The danger from the infighting currently seems to threaten the BJP the most, even as it is expected to surface in the Congress as well closer to the polls.

In 2013, the division of the BJP’s votes due to rebel candidates fielded by the KJP had cost the party the election. The KJP had then won only six seats in the 224-member Assembly and garnered 9.79 per cent votes, but this sank the BJP in as many as 26 seats that it had won in 2008 in the Lingayat belts, when it formed its first government in the state.

While defections from all parties are common during the election seasons, the current trend of several leaders’ exits from the BJP and even the JD(S) towards the Congress fold indicate that the odds are stacked in favour of the latter. With the Election Commission’s model code of conduct coming into force from Wednesday, this trend is expected to continue. The BJP, which triggered the defection of 15 Congress and JD(S) MLAs in 2019 that led to the collapse of the then Congress-JDS coalition government, may bear the brunt this time of the switch of its several disgruntled ticket aspirants to the Congress.

A former BJP MLA from Yellapura in Uttara Kannada district, V S Patil joined the Congress last year to protest a Congress turncoat Shivaram Hebbar being made a minister in the BJP government in 2020. In some cases, a few of the 15 Congress defectors are also expected to return to the grand old party for the upcoming polls.

At least two of the 32 JD(S) MLAs, Gubbi Srinivas and Shivalinge Gowda, are also likely to join the Congress in the coming days. Srinivas quit as the JD(S) MLA this week.


“After the model code of conduct comes into force we would see people joining the Congress from other parties. There are many who are in touch with the party president, the CLP leader, and the high command,” Congress working president Satish Jarkiholi said.

“The Congress leaders are calling dozens of our leaders and asking them to join their party,” CM Bommai said Wednesday after the polls were announced.


Hitting back, Shivakumar said: “Hundreds of BJP leaders are calling us and requesting us to accommodate them.”

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The JD(S) had announced its first list of 93 candidates in December 2022. The BJP is however yet to announce its first list of candidates.

First published on: 30-03-2023 at 14:11 IST
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