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Can SM Krishna help BJP in Karnataka?

After months of speculation, former Karnataka Chief Minister S M Krishna joined the BJP on Wednesday. Party President Amit Shah along with other state bigwigs Ananthkumar, Sadananda Gowda, C T Ravi, R Ashok welcomed the veteran politician in the party headquarters in Delhi.

Those following the developments in Karnataka in the last few months would recollect that SM Krishna quit Congress in January this year. Various reasons were attributed to his departure. Some even wondered, why is he quitting Congress at a ripe age of 84? What else can he expect to achieve?

Some even suggested that his greed was insatiable. After all, he was a chief minister of a state, governor and external affairs minister. Only other position that eluded could be that of Prime Minister and that of the President – which all of us can agree he would never get with Congress. It is even more of a certainty that he will not get these positions with BJP.

So, why did he move? And what are the political repercussions of this?

To understand his move, one must know the background of his politics. SM Krishna has a substantial influence in the “Old Mysore” region of Karnataka. This includes the districts of Mandya, Hassan, Chamarajnagar, Mysuru, Bengaluru, Kolara and Chikkaballapura (roughly all the districts in green, in the image below).

Karnataka map

Coincidentally, these districts are considered the home-turf of JD(S) of HD Deve Gowda. Also, the current CM Siddaramaiah wields his influence in this region. Historically, only Congress and JDS have fought for the top spot in this region.

SM Krishna may not be the dynamic vote catcher of the 90s, but he did groom many politicians during the time. Also, he was instrumental in following up with various IT industry related initiatives that Karnataka continues to enjoy. Hence, people in the area of Bengaluru have a special regard for his contribution.

Of late, it is said that Siddaramaiah was not seeking advice from SM Krishna – which apparently hurt him. In political terms, seeking advice doesn’t mean discussions on policies – but placing people who are supportive of one leader in government positions (example: in co-operative banks and so on). Hence, many of SM Krishna’s protegés were left in the cold. So SM Krishna brings with him these members who can be expected to add incremental votes to the BJP.

One of the well-known SM Krishna loyalist is actress Ramya (Divya Spandana). Don’t be surprised if she joins BJP before the next elections.

As our political analysis is almost entirely based on caste parameters, let us consider that too. SM Krishna comes from the Vokkaliga community and wields his influence with them. BJP has historically been not as successful to woo this community, compared to the Lingayats and the Brahmins (and the dalits in 2014 elections).

JD(S) too considers Vokkaligas as their base. Another key politician from this community is D K Shivakumar of Congress. However, he is mired in controversies and considered notorious. Also, Siddaramaiah removed actor Ambarish from the ministry – which has irked some. Hence, we can expect considerable flux within this community.

By joining BJP, SM Krishna is expected to achieve the following. Dent Siddaramaiah’s vote share in the old Mysore region and ensure Congress’ defeat in 2018. Ensure his loyalists a new political base for them to grow. As far as his personal moves, the only possibility looks like a governorship in some state – but will BJP give him that when he has joined to get votes.

From SM Krishna’s point of view, the move could backfire. However for BJP, he is a prize catch in the longterm. If SM Krishna remains active for few more years and “introduces” his followers to the BJP brand, it must be considered a good investment. Given that Krishna has maintained a clean image, his joining BJP will send a message that BJP rewards clean leaders and that Congress in the state is corrupt. His value may be limited for 2018, but the inroads he can generate within a hard-to-break region within Karnataka will be priceless.

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