The BJP is facing two important tests of its popularity – in the Karnataka Assembly elections and the UP municipal elections. These are, of course, different types of contests – the lower down the scale, the more a candidate’s individual clout matters at the municipal level, which is why independents also do well. Increasingly over the years, however, parties have been having a greater impact.
Even as there is much in common between UP and Karnataka, particularly in the role played by castes and community combinations, the difference between the two is the level of anti-incumbency against the ruling party. While the competition for Lingayat-Vokkaliga, etc., votes has been on in various ways over the years, the fact remains the real issue before Chief Minister Bommai and the BJP is how the people in general view the kind of governance provided over the past term. That the Karnataka electorate is somewhat demanding in this regard is evident from its habit of changing parties every five years. So, while it may seem that the BJP is working hard to shore up its caste and community votes, particularly the Lingayats, it is actually to draw attention from the indifferent quality of governance. The more the opposition parties get drawn into this game, instead of focusing on performance, the more it will benefit the BJP.
In UP, however, there is absolutely no doubt about how Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is performing. As such, the main challenger, Samajwadi Party, has to depend much on former CM Akhilesh Yadav’s popularity among his caste following, and traditional allies, the Muslim community. He is having a hard job of it, as indicated by the defection of Archana Verma, the Samajwadi Party’s candidate for the mayor’s post in Shahjahanpur, to the BJP. It is one thing for rejected aspirants jumping ship, but quite another for a designated candidate choosing to do so.
The BJP will be hoping for a strong showing in UP just in case matters don’t pan out for it in Karnataka. This is because not only is the MP assembly election coming up, the Lok Sabha challenge is due next year. Since perceptions matter a lot, it is necessary for Prime Minister Modi’s image of invincibility to be kept intact. While the best case scenario in Karnataka would be a victory, the next best would be a hung assembly, providing scope for what is described now as ‘Operation Lotus’. The contest is not just in the present but extends well into the future.