Business Standard

Age is not just a number

In Karnataka, several sitting BJP MPS above 70 years have already announced that they are ready to hang up the boots as the party looks to try younger candidates.

- ADITI PHADNIS gives a sneak peek

In the Karnataka unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whispers of a voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) for Lok Sabha members are making the rounds. This is because a significan­t number of sitting MPS have already voluntaril­y announced their intention not to contest the forthcomin­g elections.

Of the BJP’S 25 MPS from the state — which sends 28 representa­tives to the Lok Sabha — at least six are over the age of 70. Some have publicly said that they will not contest the 2024 elections. For example, V Srinivasa Prasad, the MP from Chamarajan­agar, is 76 and has declared he will not run. Others have offered to retire if their seats are given to their sons, such as Davanagere MP GM Siddeshwar­a (71), who is seeking a Lok Sabha nomination for his son Anith. Chikkaball­apur MP B N Bachegowda, at 81, has declared he will not contest. Given the advanced age of Tumakuru MP GS Basavaraj (82), the BJP may offer the seat to a younger candidate.

The BJP is offering some of these seats to its alliance partner, the Janata Dal-secular (JDS). Tumakuru is one such example. In a unique arrangemen­t, in some strategic constituen­cies like Tumakuru, a BJP candidate may be fielded on a JDS ticket and vice versa. This strategy was discussed when Union Home Minister Amit Shah recently visited Mysuru to discuss the BJP’S Lok Sabha plan. B Y Vijayendra, the chief of the BJP’S Karnataka unit, told Business Standard: “He (Shah) gave us a winning formula for all 28 seats. All our leaders have assured Amit Shahji that the BJP and the JDS will fight the election unitedly and will make a 100 per cent effort to win all the 28 Lok Sabha seats.”

The Congress is contemplat­ing fielding Priyanka Gandhi Vadra from Koppal, currently held by the BJP’S Karadi Sanganna (73). However, no further informatio­n is available at this time, beyond the surveys the Congress has conducted. The Congress currently holds six of the eight Assembly segments in this constituen­cy. If Vadra is indeed fielded, Koppal will become a prestige battle for both BJP and Congress. The BJP’S assessment is that Sanganna will not be able to compete against Vadra and will need to be replaced. Sanganna has publicly warned that if he is not given a BJP ticket, he will quit politics.

Ballari MP Y Devendrapp­a (72) is likely to lose his seat, but not due to age. At the BJP'S party cluster meetings, sitting party MLAS have urged the leadership to retire him, according to sources close to B Y Vijayendra.

Talks are at an advanced stage between a new party launched by mining baron Galli Janardhana Reddy and the BJP for an alliance in this seat. “If the BJP is willing to ally with the Kalyana Rajya Pragathi Paksha for the Lok Sabha elections, I am ready. The people of the country want to make Modi the PM again. So, I am ready to join hands,” Reddy told local media. Reddy left the BJP and formed his party ahead of the 2023 Karnataka Assembly elections. While his party only garnered about 3.2 per cent of the vote in the state, he was able to win one seat in the Assembly. There has been no response from the BJP to his offer, so far, — which would rather want him to return to the BJP.

Bijapur MP Ramesh Jigajinagi (71), a six-time MP (three from Bijapur and three from Chikkodi), would reportedly prefer not to contest. He is a Dalit, and the BJP has taken note of his recent comment that “Dalit leaders do not rise to the top easily in this party. It is very sad. But we will accept this and move on.” Although this was in response to BY Vijayendra’s appointmen­t as party chief in November 2023, it is unlikely that Jigajinagi will be fielded again.

The overall accent of the BJP is on making younger supporters fight the election. BJP sources said this is badly needed in a state where the party is in the Opposition. That the BJP has seen intense factionali­sm in Karnataka is the party’s worst-kept secret, as many leaders had attributed the 2023 Assembly election defeat to internal sabotage. But after B Y Vijayendra’s appointmen­t, his “no-nonsense approach, coupled with his popularity across districts, has compelled leaders at both state and district levels to align with his vision. Shrewd leaders recognise in him a capable, strong, and strategic-minded president. This realisatio­n, coupled with the understand­ing that Vijayendra is here for the long term, has led to a unified front,” explained a Vijayendra supporter.

The party would like to replace Bagalkot MP P C Gaddigouda­r (72), but winnabilit­y is a factor; Gaddigouda­r got 55 per cent of the vote share in 2019.

Karnataka is one of the states that has contribute­d to the overall rise in the age profile of the Lok Sabha. Parliament­ary research body PRS says 12 per cent of the outgoing 17th Lok Sabha MPS are below

40. This is more than the 16th Lok Sabha, which had 8 per cent of MPS below the age of 40 years. But the average age of MPS in the outgoing Lok Sabha was still

54. In fact, the trend points to the Lok Sabha getting older: The proportion of MPS below 40 years has steadily declined from 26 per cent in the first Lok Sabha. This time, the BJP in Karnataka, at least, is determined to change the trend.

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