Karnataka crisis triggers rift in Sangh Parivar

JD(S) leader HD Kumarswamy at his residence in Bengaluru, on May 15, 2018

When the prospects of a JD(S)-Congress coalition government under Kumaraswamy appeared certain, simmering tensions between the BJP and RSS came to the fore, sparking off a blame game on Tuesday

Dramatic mood swings can cause hallucination. In the morning the BJP was celebrating in anticipation of a famous victory. When it became clear early in the afternoon that the party would fall short of a simple majority, the morale of the JD(S) began to soar.

The dejection in the Congress over being voted out of power quickly changed into a resurgence of hope. When a deal was struck at lightning speed between senior Congress leaders and the Gowdas, the BJP rank and file were devastated and ceased their celebrations abruptly.

By sundown, when the prospects of forming a JD(S)-Congress coalition government under Kumaraswamy appeared virtually certain, a sense of disorientation pervaded through the political arena, most particularly in television studios where anchors who had already called a BJP triumph went into a confused frenzy.

Within the Sangh Parivar, the Karnataka campaign also brought to the fore certain differences in perception between the BJP and RSS that have been simmering since the Gujarat and Tripura elections.

Later in the evening, the ball fell into the Governor’s court, there was once again a somersault of extreme emotions, with nobody knowing what Vajubhai Vala would decide. Still later, there were rousing speeches by the Prime Minister and the BJP party president that somehow sounded disconnected with the ground reality.

While all this was going on, inside the Sangh Parivar, the question uppermost on the minds of strategist was - Why was the verdict so fractured? How did the BJP fail to cross the line? Why did no one foresee that the Congress and JD(S) would act so fast?

Unknown to the talking heads in TV studios a blame game had begun within the Sangh Parivar. The BJP leadership was not just disappointed at the failure to win a simple majority on its own - it was also puzzled and even worried.

This was not supposed to happen. The plans had been drawn up meticulously. Work and responsibilities had been clearly allotted between the BJP party and the RSS organisation cadres. The numbers coming in indicated that something had gone wrong somewhere.

This aroused questions about whether the RSS had carried out their tasks sincerely. Simmering suspicions between the BJP and RSS came to the surface. Some of the discussions within the Sangh Parivar began to sound more heated than they were after the Gujarat elections when some losing party candidates complained of lack of adequate support from the cadres.

Within the Sangh Parivar, the Karnataka campaign also brought to the fore certain differences in perception between the BJP and RSS that have been simmering since the Gujarat and Tripura elections.

The Congress acted surprisingly quickly – their top leaders made contact with Deve Gowda and his son and offered a deal which the father and son could not refuse. This placed the BJP in an entirely unexpected and embarrassing situation. This in turn sparked off a blame game between the BJP and RSS. The last has not been heard of this.

Insiders say the RSS leadership had told the BJP that it will take charge of booth-level management to defeat the Siddaramaiah government. The BJP politicians were pleased. As one of them said: “The RSS is our ideological head. It always helps us in fighting elections. For the first time, the RSS has decided to manage booths in Karnataka Assembly elections. It is a great relief for us. Earlier, they used to help us in a different way.”

However, some rebel RSS leaders in the state were not quite comfortable with the Congress being seen as an anti-Hindu government by the BJP. Some even spoke to local newspapers candidly - “In reality we are not really against some Congress leaders in Karnataka. They are also good Hindus and don’t abuse the RSS. We have nothing against them personally. But the RSS decided to throw its weight behind the Yeddyurappa-led BJP even though we don’t like him very much”.

The RSS asked the BJP to focus on breaking the Other Backward Classes (OBC) and Dalit votes who may go with Siddaramaiah in big numbers. Another RSS functionary said ground reports had suggested a strong backing for Siddaramaiah among the OBCs and minorities.

“Even the SC/STs are not against him. We are aware of it. We get our own feedback using the network of volunteers. It is not going to be easy for the BJP to defeat him. We can’t make corruption the main issue. The BJP is also facing serious charges of corruption. Because of that, we want to do micromanagement to some extent. All RSS volunteers vote for the BJP. But all BJP voters are not from the RSS. Therefore, it is better to have our own people at every booth.”

According to another leader, quoted in the local press, the Sangh has instructed warring Yeddyurappa and KS Eshwarappa to go for a truce, keeping party interest in mind. “Eshwarappa is a Kuruba by caste like Siddaramaiah. Yeddyurappa insulting him will be seen as an insult to Kuruba caste and they go with Siddaramaiah. We want to avoid that,” he said.

The RSS had also asked the BJP to play up the alleged killing of its workers a big issue in the election. One of the top three leaders of the RSS, Dattathreya Hosabale, is also from Karnataka and hails from Hosabale village in Shimoga district — the same as Yeddyurappa and Eshwarappa.

During a meeting with RSS top brass at its Nagpur headquarters, Amit Shah had assured that all their guidelines would be followed. Accordingly, during the campaigning, BJP workers were joined by Sangh karyakartas openly in seeking votes in the three coastal districts of Dakshina Kannada, Uttara Kannada and Udupi. The RSS has made its entry into Karnataka politics official for the very first time.

As far back as July 2017, the BJP hired a polling agency to conduct an advance survey of the Karnataka assembly election to be held a full ten months later. The agency, Creative Center for Political and Social Studies (COPS), came out with numbers which were almost incredibly accurate - BJP 113, Congress plus JD(S) plus Independents 108.

So the planning was meticulous. Yet somehow, not only did the numbers fall short but the JD(S) ended up winning more seats than expected - with secret strategic assistance from the RSS. The result was chaos. The Congress acted surprisingly quickly – their top leaders made contact with Deve Gowda and his son and offered a deal which the father and son could not refuse. This placed the BJP in an entirely unexpected and embarrassing situation. This in turn sparked off a blame game between the BJP and RSS. The last has not been heard of this.

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