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‘BJP has no worries over candidates… party symbol, PM Modi’s leadership enough’: Karnataka Higher Education Minister

The BJP is optimistic of a full majority in the coming Karnataka Assembly elections, as well as upbeat about beating the JD(S) and Congress in belts in which they have had an edge in recent polls, says incumbent Minister for Higher Education and Skill Development Dr C N Ashwathnarayan. In the list released on Tuesday, the party has refielded him from Malleshwaram in Bengaluru Urban district. Excerpts from an interview:

How is the outlook for the party for the coming elections? Is the BJP facing anti-incumbency?

Ashwathnarayan: Prospects in the coming election look extremely good for the party. There is no anti-incumbency (and) we are seeing more of a pro-incumbency. So far in no election, notably 2008 and 2018, have we got a full majority. But, in this election, we are confident that we are going to get a full majority.

In Bengaluru, the BJP has been winning fewer seats over time — 17 in 2008, 12 in 2013 and 11 in 2018.

Ashwathnarayan: We are going to win more seats than other parties. Even though we won 11 seats in Bengaluru in 2018, we added four more seats subsequently in the (2019) bypolls. This time, we are confident of winning 18-20 seats in Bengaluru.

The BJP faced questions over the delay in its list of candidates. What was the cause for the delay?

Ashwathnarayan: If you look at all the past elections, our work starts once the elections are notified. So there was no question of delay. Even now, the process of filing nominations by candidates has not begun. Normally, once the nomination process starts, we announce our list.

I think this isn’t something new. This is the tradition of the BJP. Over time this is what we have been doing for all the elections.

The Congress and JD(S) announced candidates much earlier. Will this cost you? Other parties’ candidates have already started door-to-door campaigning.

Ashwathnarayan: The BJP is not a political party of a few people or of one family. It’s a people’s party. Since it represents the people’s aspirations, the people are connected with the BJP. The party does not need to announce candidates in advance, unlike other parties. Just the party symbol, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s achievements and leadership are enough. People give votes based on his leadership.

Compared to other parts of Karnataka, the BJP has struggled in Old Mysuru, dominated by the Vokkaligas, a community you represent. They have mostly favoured the JD(S) or Congress. Will we see a change in 2023?

Ashwathnarayan: We are making sincere efforts in this part of the state. The party will make sufficient gains in Old Mysuru. We are the only party that can address any challenges and provide an administration on a par with the rule of Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar and rulers of the Mysuru kingdom. We want to replicate such governance for the people of Old Mysuru.

BJP leaders have faced allegations of having an understanding with the JD(S) in Old Mysuru. Union Home Minister Amit Shah reportedly warned against this at party meetings.

Ashwathnarayan: We do not have a pact with anybody. We are looking to expand and have our own presence and our own representatives… From the top ranks of the party to the bottom, the directions are very clear — no question of any understanding or compromise with the JD(S) or Congress. Our face-off will be with the JD(S) first and the Congress next in Old Mysuru.

Who is the Vokkaliga face for the BJP this election, given that BJP Parliamentary Board member B S Yediyurappa and CM Basavaraj Bommai are its Lingayat faces?

Ashwathnarayan: In our party, we don’t work along caste lines. The BJP is very inclusive and equitable and we have to represent all sections of society. We look at how good governance can be provided, which is our topmost priority.

The BJP has also had its share of factions and infighting ahead of the polls. Will this have a bearing on the outcome?

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Ashwathnarayan: The BJP is not the Congress to have such groups and factionalism. Our organisation is very strong, and regularly monitors the entire system. There is no question of any camps or one faction working against others.

What do you make of the use of data analytic firms for electioneering?

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Ashwathnarayan: It is very important to have inputs to make informed decisions or strategies about issues and how people are responding to them. It helps identify priorities of the people, and what they really expect when it comes to leaders. These types of inputs give us a lot of information to make the right decisions. Also, it is not something new. Only data collection methods have improved, and are more accurate. Earlier data collection used to take more time.

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