Bengaluru/Mangaluru: After a hard fought battle to retain Gujarat, the BJP's focus is now firmly on Karnataka, with BJP national president Amit Shah convening a crucial meeting with state BJP leaders, summoning the party core committee leaders to Delhi on Wednesday to discuss the election strategy.
On top of Amit Shah's list of invitees is Union Minister of State Ananth Kumar Hegde who has been in the forefront of the recent agitations in Uttara Kannada and Dakshina Kannada which the BJP is hoping to use as a staging point for a popular movement to unseat the Congress government.
However much of a heartburn it may cause in the B.S. Yeddyurappa camp, Mr. Hegde is expected to be given additional responsibility as the face of the Karnataka election campaign.
Coupled with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's flying visit to Mangaluru overnight, there was little doubt that Modi's pit stop in Mangaluru was to kickstart the BJP's Mission Karnataka. Instead of flying directly to the cyclone affected areas of Lakshadweep, Kerala and Tamil Nadu via Kochi he chose Mangaluru, playing to the gallery and virtually kicking off his party campaign for the 2018 state poll by rallying some 3,000 supporters, who converged on the airport and followed him to the Circuit House.
Seeing the Prime Minister in Mangaluru, a Congress leader observed that his visit appeared to be part of the BJP's election strategy. "The BJP's next target is Karnataka. By coming to Mangaluru the same day that the BJP won in two states he clearly wanted to maintain the tempo and mood and get his party ready for the poll in Karnataka," he said, adding that the BJP's main target was coastal Karnataka, where it wanted to win the maximum number of seats.
The BJP made much of the fact that instead of heading for Gujarat, the Congress president Rahul Gandhi, headed for a movie "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" on Monday, after the results were in.
Disturbed by the alarming results in the Gujarat elections where the BJP won but with razor thin margins, the BJP central leadership has decided to turn its immediate attention to Karnataka, with party national President Amit Shah summoning the BJP core committee leaders to Delhi for an elections strategy meeting on Wednesday.
Most interestingly, the BJP national President has invited Union Minister of state, Ananth Kumar Hegde for the meeting, even though he is not a member of the BJP core committee. Mr. Yeddyurappa will also attend the meeting at Delhi.
Impressed with Ananth Kumar Hegde's aggressive speeches in the ongoing Parivarthana Yatra, the party central leadership may give him additional responsibility to counter CM Siddaramaiah in 2018 elections. The party leadership believes that it's only Mr. Hegde who can effectively counter Siddaramaiah, and that he would be far better than any other state leaders at it, sources said. Unlike Gujarat, both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah know they face a strong local leadership in Karnataka. Growing prominence of Siddaramaiah in Karnataka is a challenge for Mr. Modi and Shah. BJP sources also said, instead of attacking Congress President Rahul Gandhi, BJP central leadership will focus more on Siddaramaiah and his ‘anti people’ policies.
During the meeting, Mr. Shah will assess the ongoing tour of the Chief Minister and public response for his rally, and chalk out a strategy to counter the Siddaramaiah tour of the state. The Hindutva agenda of the party is the main reason for pushing Mr. Hedge to the front position, as the party's state leadership is preparing to bank on Hegde's ‘skill’ in whipping up the Hindutva agenda as its main plank during the election campaign.
Sources close to Ananth Kumar Hegde told this newspaper that Tuesday's meeting could be crucial for Karnataka, Mr. Shah is likely to spell out the tasks to party leaders and in the case of Mr Hegde, set the agenda to attack the Chief Minister Siddaramaiah whom the BJP believes, only Mr Hegde was able to successfully counter during the Parivarthana Yatra.