The banner of revolt by disappointed ticket aspirants in a number of constituencies seems to be keeping the BJP leadership on tenterhooks, as it resorts to douse the fire with less than a month to go before the Assembly polls.
The decision of former Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar and former deputy Chief Minister Laxman Savadi to quit the BJP after the party decided not to field them in the May 10 elections, has given a jolt to the party. Party leaders in private acknowledged that the disgruntlement after announcement of candidates is certainly a cause for worry.
The BJP has so far announced candidates in 212 constituencies out of the total 224 in two lists. According to party sources, there seems to be revolt in about two dozen Assembly segments. Karnataka BJP strongman B S Yediyurappa on Sunday said no force can stop the party from coming back power with a clear majority.
The national party has pressed its leaders into action for damage control. Union Ministers Dharmendra Pradhan (poll in-charge), Pralhad Joshi, Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, Yediyurappa, state president Nalin Kumar Kateel are engaged in trouble-shooting exercises. Also, some RSS leaders are said to have been roped in to pacify the dissidents.
Bommai and Yediyurappa have said that they are talking to all the disgruntled leaders personally to ensure that they don't leave the party, and the central leadership is personally in touch with some seniors who are upset. Pradhan was even sent to Belagavi where the party has fielded seven new faces, and has replaced at least two sitting legislators.
The BJP in the first two lists has dropped at least 17 sitting MLAs and has fielded 67 new candidates. While deciding tickets, the party has adopted the policy of trying to replace some seniors and those nearing "retirement" (75 years), fielding new faces in segments where it has not won, and asking leaders to withdraw from the fray if they want tickets for their children, a party functionary said.
According to reports, the leadership, during the Central Election Committee meeting had expressed reservations regarding the State BJP's recommendation list, which re-nominated most of the sitting legislators, and it contained the names of both father and children.
After the CEC meeting, Bommai himself had given an indication in this regard by stating that Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave some directions and the party is working on various inputs to finalise the list. He, however, did not elaborate on the nature of directions or inputs. Several rounds of deliberations were held in Delhi before announcing the first list.
Among the legislators who have resigned from the post and the primary membership of the party include - MLAs M P Kumaraswamy (Mudigere), Goolihatti Shekhar (Hosadurga), and MLCs Laxman Savadi (Athani) and R Shankar (Ranebennur).
Savadi quit BJP and joined Congress on Friday. On Saturday, the grand old party gave him a ticket from Athani in Belagavi district. Haveri MLA Nehru Olekar and former MLA from Tumakuru city Sogadu Shivanna too have announced that they will resign from the primary membership of the party.
Several other leaders or legislators who have not got the ticket have openly expressed their angst and have said that they will decide on their next move in a couple of days, once they consult their supporters and voters in the constituency.
Of the 12 seats for which tickets are yet to be announced, seven are currently held by BJP MLAs. They include Shivamogga and Hubli-Dharwad Central, the seats represented by senior party leaders K S Eshwarappa and Shettar, respectively. Eshwarappa, a former deputy Chief Minister, has told the party's Central leadership that he wishes to retire from electoral politics and has requested it to not consider fielding him in the Assembly polls. He is, however, seeking a ticket for his son K E Kantesh, from Shivamogga, some reports said.
The decision of Shettar, a prominent Lingayat leader from north Karnataka, may adversely impact the party's prospects in a number of segments in the region, according to political observers. At least 16 Hubli-Dharwad Municipal Corporation councillors have offered to tender their resignation in support of Shettar. Shettar, a veteran BJP leader whose family has been associated with the party since Jana Sangh days, is an influential leader from its bastion of Kittur-Karnataka region.
The other segments for which the tickets are to be announced include - Govindarajanagar represented by Minister V Somanna, who is now the party's candidate from Varuna and Chamarajanagar. Somanna wants a ticket of his erstwhile constituency to his son Arun Somanna. Also to be announced are former ministers Aravind Limbavali and MLA S A Ramadass' Mahadevapura and Krishnaraja segments respectively.
Bommai, on his part, has said that in a ruling party where there are a lot of aspirations, it is natural to have disgruntlement during ticket distribution ahead of elections, and the party is strong and capable enough of managing things. He said some leaders with ambition to become legislators might be parting ways, but workers were committed to the party.
Minister S Angara and MLA Raghupathi Bhat, who had expressed displeasure about being denied tickets from Sullia and Udupi respectively, and had decided to stay away from the party work, have reconciled and have announced that they will campaign for the party candidates.
Confident that things will fall in place very soon, as national leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah among others will come to state for campaigning, some BJP functionaries are of the opinion that the "experiment" adopted by the party for ticket distribution in Karnataka is part of a larger strategy to strengthen and broadbase the party, while grooming the new line of leadership.
"Such experiments have been done in States like Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Assam and Himachal Pradesh among a few others, now in Karnataka, and it will continue in other States," a party functionary said, adding that he is hopeful of success, as it is also part of a strategy to combat "anti incumbency".
Some party leaders feel that fielding new faces for elections, will energise workers as it gives assurance to them about opportunities ahead, and will also attract more people to join BJP, thereby expanding the cadre base.
Some partymen point at BJP's decision to spice up the poll scene, by fielding heavyweights against top Congress leaders Siddaramaiah and D K Shivakumar and taking the fight to the opposition camp, as a "bold step" and a right move to end "adjustment politics" between political leaders.
BJP has announced that senior Ministers V Somanna and R Ashoka would take on former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Karnataka Congress chief Shivakumar in Varuna and Kanakapura, respectively.