April 21, 2013

BATTLEGROUND KARNATAKA - PART 1

THE QUADRIPARTITE BATTLE FOR POWER

With the people from the north eastern states re-electing their incumbent governments to power, the round one of the 2013 assembly polls is over and the action has now shifted to Karnataka which is scheduled to go to the polls on 5 May. As this is the first big state on the line this year, the contest is heating up and the fight is expected to get uglier by the day. The results of the local elections held about two months ago in the various cities and towns across Karnataka indicates an anti-BJP
CM Jagdish Shettar will lead the BJP
wave which is primarily benefiting the principal Opposition party - the Congress. Sensing victory, the INC is trying to build on the advantage in its attempt to form a majority regime on its own without the need of any unholy alliances. On the contrary, the BJP which is hit by numerous corruption scandals and defection is trying hard to prevent desertion of top leaders and more importantly the voters to other outfits. JD(S) chief Kumarswamy who has topped a recent poll as the preferred Chief Ministerial candidate of the electorate is highlighting the failures of the national parties to deliver on their promises in the past while asking the masses to give him a second shot at the top post. With the pundits predicting a hung assembly, the new entrants in the fray - former CM Yeddyurappa's KJP and Bellary strongman Sriramalu's BSR Congress are hoping to emerge as the King-makers so that can make the next government dance to their whims and fancies. Whether the predictions come true or not, it seems as though the Karnataka elections will probably be the most closely contested polls of this year and the outcome here will certainly have a bearing on how the fight for the next Lok Sabha shapes up.

In 2008, as the BJP swept the state winning 110 of the 224 seats on the line, many of its well wishers hoped that its 'model government' here would help it expand in other southern states. Five years down the line, it seems as if the regime which saw as many as three different CMs besides innumerable scandals will arguably be a top contender for the tag of the worst government in the history of Karnataka. Soon after assuming power, the top leadership of the party launched the infamous 'Operation Kamal (Lotus)' hoping to increase its strength in the Vidhan Soudha, wherein opposing MLAs were convinced to resign and then contest on BJP ticket from their respective constituencies. Though the Congress had employed such a strategy in Goa after they managed to topple the then Parrikar government in 2005, the manner in which Yeddy & Co. went about with this experiment did raise suspicion about huge sums of money being used to influence sitting legislators. Few months down the line, with the powerful and unbelievably rich Reddy brothers coming under the scanner on allegation of illegal mining and exporting of iron ore, the BJP was caught in a catch 22 situation as sacking Janardhan Reddy would cause a vertical split in their ranks whereas not taking any action would make the party look like being soft on corruption thereby affecting its own campaign against scams perpetrated by the UPA government at the Centre. Though Yeddyurappa managed to avert this crisis, the Lokayukta report indicting him of making profits through illegal land deals in Bengaluru was indeed a major embarrassment, compounded by his flat refusal to resign from his post inspite of pressure from the top leadership including patriarch Lal Krishna Advani and his media spats with Justice Hegde.

Eventually, the Shikaripur MLA was arrested and jailed, thereby becoming the first CM in the history of the country to be put behind the bars. With the calls for his head growing louder by the day and no alternative left, BSY finally put down his papers and entrusted his beloved post to his trusted aide D V Sadanand Gowda, who was the state president during the BJP's spectacular victory in 2008. It is believed that Yeddy had propped up Sadanand Gowda, a Vokkaligga as he closely
Modi addresses a rally in Bengaluru
guarded his image as the top leader of the Lingayyat community - the largest caste in the state, which is his biggest USP. However, things soon turned sour between the two and the former threatened to pull down the government which he had himself headed in the past. To prevent dissident activities, the party bowed to his demands and brought another of his former lieutenant Jagdish Shettar - this time a Lingayat to power. Not so surprisingly, the two fell apart soon and BSY quit the party that he had so pain stackingly established in the state over a period spanning nearly four decades and joined the KJP. Several leaders including former minister Shobha Karandalaje followed him into the new party. Besides, the 'porngate scandal' wherein three legislators were seen watching sleaze inside the Legislative Assembly, the revolt of B Sriramalu and the subsequent rout in Bellary Rural by-elections, the court case involving the disqualification of 11 party rebels and five independent MLAs and the desecration of churches in South Kanara further added to the woes of the premiere BJP government south of the Vindhyas.

There were two reasons for saffron outfit's resounding win in 2008 - the Lingayyat community's backing of BSY and the money power of the Reddy brothers. This time around though, with both Yeddyurappa and Sriramalu out of the BJP, the party is taking several steps to improve its performance, especially after the setback in the local elections. Firstly, Pralhad Joshi - the Member of Parliament from Dharwad was named as the new state president which is seen as a move to strengthen its position in northern parts of the state where the KJP is giving it tough competition. Joshi who had led the agitation to hoist the national flag at the Idgah Maidan in Hubli has both, a clean image and Hindutva past and hence was chosen over the likes of DVS and Eshwarappa. Secondly, in a bold move, the party had made Jagdish Shettar its leader ahead of the polls, hoping to retain the Lingayyat vote bank that had rallied behind it in the past. By naming their chief ministerial candidate, the BJP has virtually removed all scope of infighting in its ranks and made ticket distribution process much easier, something which has made life difficult for the INC. Trying hard to wash away the taint of corruption and mis-administration, the party is trying to project that it has been cleansed after the departure of BSY and the Reddys. Besides, it has also done something that parties in India rarely do with president Rajnath Singh saying a sorry for the failure to provide a stable government in Karnataka in the last five years. While this apology may be too little too late, nonetheless it is a positive gesture. The state leadership has managed to convince Yeddy loyalists - Basvaraj Bommai, Umesh Katti, Murugesh Nirani and V Somanna to stay back giving a big blow to the KJP. The manifesto includes a host of freebies like subsidized rice for the poor and laptops for students of standard XII. Also, it has roped in star campaigner Narendra Modi to address rallies in Bengaluru, Belgaum and Mangalore which has attracted sizable crowds.

The Congress in Karnataka, on the other hand, finds itself in the ideal situation as most of the opinion polls predict it to emerge close to the majority mark if not cross it comfortably. With the incumbent regime paralyzed by one scandal after another, much like the UPA at the Centre, it looks like the elections are INC's to lose. 
Parameshwar (Left) and Siddaramiah (Right)
However, the party is not taking any chances, aware that if it cannot cross the 113 mark on its own, then it has to rely on untrustworthy allies like JD(S) with which it had a love-hate relationship in the past or 'tainted' Yeddyurappa's KJP. The Congress has launched the 'Corruption Saaku' campaign in the state, asking the masses to vote out the BJP. Ironically, this comes at a time when the government it heads at the Centre coming under sharp criticism for a host of scandals including 2G, CWG, Coal-gate, Chopper-gate, Vadra-DLF land deals and so on. In its manifesto, it has promised interest free loans to the farmers. Treading a cautious line, it has refused tickets to several legislators from the BJP who had quit ahead of the polls as it believes that it has to maintain a clean image to get the votes. The heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi in his campaign in the state has repeatedly taken digs at the saffron party for its failure on multiple issues affecting the common man.


Battleground Karnataka - Part 2 (Link)

IMAGES 

(1) CM Jagdish Shettar will lead the BJP
Original: NDTV - Jagdish Shettar retains key departments like finance and mines (Link)

(2) Modi addresses a rally in Bengaluru
Original: The Hindu - Modi goes all out against the Congress (Link)

(3) Parameshwar (Left) and Siddaramiah (Right)
Original: Deccan Chronicle - BJP: Crisis of Candidates (Link)