Karnataka: BJP appoints Vokkaliga MLA as leader of Opposition
The choice of R. Ashoka for the role signals the BJP's continued reliance on the Lingayat–Vokkaliga vote bank in its bid to wrest back power
Continuing its exercise of reworking the caste matrix to win back Karnataka, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chose a Vokkaliga, R Ashoka, for the opposition leader's post in the state Legislative Assembly. The selection of a Vokkaliga will square off BJP's fight with the Congress on the Vokkaliga leadership issue.
A week after appointing the state unit president, B Y Vijayendra, a Lingayat, the BJP central leadership on Friday, 17 November, named its leader in the Karnataka Assembly, which had not been filled following the elections in May. In the last seven months with no opposition leader in the Assembly, former chief minister H D Kumaraswamy had filled this space as a strident critic of the ruling Congress. Though the BJP in its alliance with the Janata Dal-Secular (JDS) has Kumaraswamy, who is also a Vokkaliga, the party intends to carve out its own identity in the community.
Both the candidates for the two top posts were parachuted by the BJP central leadership, taking the state unit by surprise. While it was announced that Union minister Nirmala Sitharaman and BJP national general secretary Dushyanth Kumar Gautam would elicit views of the party legislators, they held discussions after their arrival on Friday only with some seniors.
Sitharaman and Gautam visited the residence of BJP MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, who was an aspirant for both the posts. They failed to convince him with Yatnal pouring out his anger before the media saying he will not accept Vijayendra's leadership. Another senior Lingayat MLA Aravind Bellad said the party should have considered giving the opposition leader's post to a person from north Karnataka as the BJP secured the maximum seats from this region.
The BJP has given both the posts to persons from South Karnataka. While Vijayendra represents Shikaripura in Shivamogga district, Ashoka has been elected from Padmanabhanagar constituency in Bengaluru South. The selections are pointers that the party plans to firm up its position with the Lingayats and Vokkaligas ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in 2024.
The party is aware that by keeping B S Yediyurappa in the good books, the Lingayat community is taken care of. The concern is garnering the Vokkaliga support which is now fragmented between state Congress president and deputy chief minister D K Shivakumar and JD(S) Chief H D Kumaraswamy. Ashoka has to fight to get the BJP's share in this pie. In the 2023 Assembly polls, the Congress was successful in breaking the stranglehold of the JD(S) in the Vokkaliga districts of Kolar, Mandya, Bengaluru rural, Mysuru and Chikkamangaluru with Shivakumar seen as the new face of the community.
Who is Ashoka?
A seven-time MLA, the 65-year-old Ashoka has been a minister in all governments of the BJP from 2008 in Karnataka and was also the deputy chief minister. He made his maiden entry into electoral politics from Uttarahalli assembly constituency (prior to delimitation in 2008) in a bypoll. A good organiser, his drawback is lack of oratory skills as he has to take on Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and a host of senior ministers on the floor of the Assembly.
He was keeping a low profile after a lapse in his organisational skills in 2017. It is said that union home minister Amit Shah was upset over the poor turnout of crowd at the BJP's Nava Karnataka Parivarthana Rath Yatra organised in November 2017. This was supposed to be a precursor for Yediyurappa's state-wide tour ahead of the 2018 Assembly polls. When Shah arrived for the function on the outskirts of Bengaluru, empty seats greeted him, when a crowd of three lakh was planned to be mobilised.
In February 2023, Ashoka's appointment as the Mandya district-incharge minister was opposed by the local party workers who put up posters opposing it. In the 2023 Assembly elections, the party fielded him from his home turf Padmanabhanagar, and also Kanakapura, to take on Shivakumar. He lost the Kanakapura election.