March 01, 2014

KARNATAKA & LOK SABH 2014


CAN THE CONGRESS CARRY THE MOMENTUM?



After its emphatic victory in 2013 assembly polls, one would expect the Congress to do exceedingly well in Karnataka, more since the two opposition parties, namely the BJP and the JD-S were not able to even cross the half century mark. After all, if the BJP could win over sixty percent of the seats here in 2009 after managing to fall short of the majority mark by two seats in 2008 state polls, the INC with 122 MLAs in the present assembly can even better the saffron party's tally. While nobody can deny that the Congress has an upper hand, the return of the Lingayat strongman and tainted former CM B S Yeddyurappa into the BJP ranks has given it a big boost. The fight is now expected to be much closer than it was previously thought to be. Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Deve Gowda has joined the Third Front (Link) bandwagon. After the demolition in the last Lok Sabha polls and a below par performance in the election to the state legislature it seems that the Vokkaliga leader is desperately fighting for his political survival at the Center. Here is my take on the issues that will decide how Karnataka votes, my predictions of the results here and what are the things to look out for.

ISSUES

(1) Local versus National: The people of Karnataka are in a dilemma of sorts. The performance of the UPA in its second innings at the Center and that of the Congress regime in Bengaluru so far has been drastically different.

While he has been in power for around a year, the Chief Minister of Karnataka Siddaramaiah has made sure that he does not do anything to displease the masses who voted for his party in May 2013. In fact, some of the populist programmes undertaken by the new government have been major hits and are likely to help the Congress electorally like the Anna Bhagya scheme which provides rice at Re 1 per kg for people living below the poverty line. The 2014 state budget focused on farmers and of course, the minorities which form nearly 17 percent of the state's population. Although two ministers in his cabinet namely D Shivakumar and Roshan Baig have been accused in scams, Siddu has put his party on a firm footing in the state; it seems that he has justified the faith that Sonia Gandhi showed in him by appointing him for the top job despite of strong opposition from party leaders who were against an 'outsider' being made the CM after such a huge win.

Now contrast this to the UPA government in New Delhi and you know what I am talking about. Over the last four years, scam after scam running into thousands of crores of rupees have rocked the nation. At a time when corruption has become the most talked about issue in the country, the INC is facing enormous anti-incumbency and finding hard to find allies who are afraid of negative publicity if they tie-up with the grand old party. Apart from graft, the Congress led government has failed on all accounts; the country's growth rate has declined even as unemployment rates continue to be high. Overall, the image of the country as an emerging world power based on our political stability and economic success over the years has been tarnished. The bottom line is clear; the UPA II government under Manmohan Singh is one of the least popular governments in the history of the country and certainly the Congress cannot hope to win the upcoming polls by showcasing its report card.

Now you can yourself conclude what is the position of the two national parties on this topic. The BJP wants the electorate to vote keeping the UPA's performance in mind whereas the Congress wants to focus on the Siddaramiah's work in the last one year.

(2) The caste equations: The fact of the matter is that caste is one of the most dominating factors in the Karnataka politics and there is nothing to indicate that it is going to change this time around. All the three parties major parties have their own caste based vote banks that they will rely on to maximize their tally.

The Lingayats are the most dominant caste in the state and the tallest leader from this community is B S Yeddyurappa. Nobody can deny the fact that had he been with the BJP during the last state polls, the party would have easily won around 10 to 20 seats more. While the Shikaripura MLA's party - the KJP won just 6 seats, he managed to dent his former party's prospects. Now that BSY has merged the KJP into the BJP, the state leadership is hopeful that the Lingayats who had deserted them earlier will be with them this time around. The 2014 elections will be a test for Yeddy as in my opinion it will decide whether he still yields the kind of influence over his caste that he used to till some time back.

While the BJP is banking on the Lingayats, Deve Gowda is hopeful that his Vokkaliga community will stand firmly behind him. The Vokkaligas are the second biggest caste in the state and have significant presence in the southern parts of Karnataka. This region has been the traditional strong hold of the JD(S). The former Prime Minister will be hoping that he can expand his influence over other sections of the society too.

Moving over the two biggest communities in the state, Siddaramiah stitched together a powerful combination to romp home to power in 2013. Belonging to the Koruba caste, he banked on the support of the OBCs and the minorities to score an emphatic win for the Congress. After the return of BSY to the BJP, he has tried to woo the Vokkaligas by giving several soaps to the farmers in the state budget.

(3) The mis-rule of the BJP: Unfortunately for the saffron outfit, the Congress is tackling anti-incumbency at the Center by reminding the people of the BJP's mis-rule when it was in power here. What was suppose to be its model government to the south of the Vindhyas turned into a major embarrassment as numerous ministers were accused of being involved in corruption. Serving CM Yeddyurappa was jailed for his alleged role in a land grab scam. Much like the UPA regime, the saffron government in Karnataka was certainly one of the most unpopular state governments in recent times. In spite of changing three different CMs in five years, the party lost or to be frank was routed in the 2013 polls to the legislature. Before the General elections, one can expect the Congress and the JD(S) to raise this subject to counter the BJP's campaign based around Narendra Modi.

(4) The problems in Bengaluru: While Pune, Mumbai, Noida and Hyderabad offer some competition, Bengaluru - the capital of Karnataka is the premier IT destination in the country. Several MNCs, both in Information Technology and Electronics have set up their branches here, providing employment to thousands of Indians. However, over the years, the Garden City is being plagued by numerous problems most of which have been overlooked by successive regimes. While population has been growing, the infrastructure continues to be pathetic. The conditions of road network in the city is bad and projects like fly overs, under passes and Namma Metro have been delayed. Property prices have skyrocketed, the green cover is fast disappearing and the water table is depleting at an alarming rate. Moreover, a recent report in NDTV showed that the city corporation is in a debt worth several hundred crores. Since Bengaluru has five Lok Sabha seats - four in the city and one in the rural areas, the development of the city is likely to feature during the campaigns.

CONTENDERS

Karnataka is an interesting state from the political point of view since all three national fronts have some presence here. In the triangular contest, the fight is between the Congress (UPA), the BJP (NDA) and the Deve Gowda's JD(S) which is a constituent and founding member of the Third Front.

(1) Congress: The INC is in an enviable position in the state. In fact, it is one of the handful of states where the party has no major worries. All that CM Siddaramiah & Co. have to do is make sure that they do not do anything wrong and they can easily walk away with more than half of the seats from here. The state is extremely crucial for the Congress, more so after it has become clear that it is heading towards a rout in Seemandhra after the creation of Telangana (Link). Considering its precarious position in the rest of the country, the Congress would like to make up for its loses in other states by winning a major chunk of the seats here. The election in Karnataka is for the Congress to lose; if the leaders can hold their nerve the state could even end up adding the maximum number of MPs to the UPA's tally. In its first list of nominees, the party has retained all of its sitting MPs and has also roped in former Infosys CEO Nandan Nilenkani to contest from Bengaluru - South.

(2) BJP: In 2009, Karnataka was one of the states where the BJP beat the Congress hands down winning 19 of the 28 seats. Five years down the line when the national mood is largely anti-Congress, the saffron party in the state is not in a position to capitalize over it. As the elections are coming near, the party's strtegy seems to be to cut down its loses. Firstly, the BJP has managed to woo the former CM Yeddy back into its fold. Though he carries the stigma of corruption with him, BSY can help the party win a sizable number of Lingayat votes. With this development, the BJP can expect to win at least 2 to 3 more seats than it would have without Yeddyurappa by their side. Next, efforts are on to woo back Sriramalu who split from the BJP to form the BSR Congress just before the 2013 assembly polls. Also, the party is expected to drop many of its sitting MPs. Will this pay off? We need to wait and watch.

(3) Janata Dal (Secular): In 2009, the JD(S) was reduced to mere three seats and in course of time, it did lose 2 of these in by polls. With both the seats being their former strongholds, it looks like the regional outfit is battling for its survival. Just prior to the General Elections, the former PM Deve Gowda has put his weight behind the Third Front. In a loose federation like this, numbers matter. As such Gowda has his task cut out. If he can get over 10 seats, he can emerge as the 'dark horse' for the top post of the country, provided the Front can stack up the numbers. If he gets between 5 to 10 seats, he can lobby for lucrative ministry in the national cabinet. If he finishes with less than 5 seats, then he will be reduced to a minor player at the national level. In a bid to maximize its chances, the party has launched the 'Save Karnataka' campaign. Accusing both the national fronts of failing to work for the development of the state, the JD(S) is pitching itself as a strong alternative to the people of the state. The problem however is that the Gowdas lack support in all the parts in Karnataka. Besides, it does not have any mass leaders other than the father-son duo of H D Deve Gowda and H D Kumaraswamy. In 2008, just before the state elections, two of its prominent leaders, namely M P Prakash and a certain Siddaramaiah crossed over to the Congress accusing the JD(S) supremo of nepotism. While Prakash is dead, the other leader today is the CM of Karnataka. Meanwhile, the senior Gowda is set to contest from his home in Hassan even though some of his cadre wanted him to contest from some constituency in the south. His son Kumaraswamy has made it clear that he will concentrate on state politics whereas his wife Anita is not too keen to jump into the fray.

Sriramalu is certainly going to be the numero uno contender in his fortres of Bellary in case he does not merge his BSR Congress into the BJP. The Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti might do well amongst the Marathi-speaking areas in Belgaum but is unlikely to win any seats. 

PAST PERFORMANCE

One look at the below chart shows the rise and then the ultimate fall of the BJP in the state. In 1999 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress held 18 seats in the state. In the next two General Elections, it was the saffron outfit which came out flying colors. Even in the assembly elections, the party made good progress over the years until its disastrous tenure in power. The Congress ended its seven year drought as it scored a famous win in 2013 crossing the half way mark on its own. The JD(S) has never been a big player in the state in the sense that its numbers in General Elections have always been paltry. It remains to be seen if Gowda's outfit can break the ceiling this time around.

Political Party
2013 SE 
2009 GE
2008 SE
2004 GE
2004 SE
1999 LE
Congress
122
6
80
8
65
18
Bharatiya Janata Party
40
19
110
18
79
7
Janata Dal (Secular)
40
3
28
2
58
-
Others
22
-
6
-
5
3

(1) SE: State Election (Karnataka assembly has 224 seats)
(2) GE: General Election (Karnataka has 28 seats in the Lower house of the Parliament)


MY PREDICTIONS

Siddaramiah is all set to the lead Congress to a huge victory in the General Elections in 2014 in his home state. In my opinion, Karnataka is doing to be one of the few silver linings for the UPA in the next polls. On the other hand, the BJP is losing and losing heavily. Its only hope is that Yeddy's return will help it do well in the northern parts of the state. The JD(S) will struggle as it has always done in the big elections.

Political Party
Expected Seats
1
Congress
14-18
2Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
8-12
3
Janata Dal - Secular (JD - S)
1-4
4
BSR Congress
0-1

WATCH OUT

(1) Which way will Sriramalu go? Bellary strongman Sriramalu is likely to return to the saffron outfit before the election. Even the BJP is keen to have him back considering his influence in his district. The Valmiki leader's home coming will further strengthen the party here. However, it is believed that Sushma Swaraj who had contested the elections from Bellary against Sonia Gandhi in 1999 is not too keen to have him back. Sriramalu is extremely close to the tainted Reddy brothers. If he returns back, the BJP will have to answer certain tough questions. However, I think this a risk it is willing to take.

(2) Sandalwood stars battle it out in Mandya: Popularly known as 'Sandalwood Queen', Kannada actress Ramya is the serving Congress MP from Mandya. It is believed that the BJP is planning to rope in 'Real Star' Upendra to contest against her. With both these actors boasting of massive popularity, the contest is expected to extremely close. Meanwhile, the JD(S) too has got in another celebrity to wrest the seat which was, till sometime back considered to be its stronghold. It is expected to nominate actress Rakshita from here. The battle between the Sandalwood stars is going to be interesting. Though many Kannada actors have joined politics in the past, they do not evoke the kind of response that actors turned politicians do in states like Andhra and Tamil Nadu.

(3) The fight over Kaveri: Do not be surprised if the dispute over sharing of waters of the river Kaveri is raised by politicians in the state before the General Elections. In February 2013, the Central government, under pressure from the Supreme Court ratified the final award of the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal under which Tamil Nadu is to get 58 percent of the water whereas Karnataka got 37 percent. Many in the state had opposed this but the protests died out soon in wake of the assembly elections. However, you can expect the BJP and the JD(S) to bring use this issue to counter the Congress.

Other posts in this series:
(1) Telangana & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(2) Rajasthan & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)

(3) Maharashtra & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(4) Goa & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(5) Kerala & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(6) Assam & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(7) Tripura & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(8) Haryana & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(9) Chhattisgarh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(10) Jammu Kashmir & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(11) Madhya Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(12) Bihar & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(13) Jharkhand & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(14) Sikkim & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(15) Arunachal Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(16) Mizoram & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(17) Meghalaya & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(18) Manipur & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(19) Nagaland & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(20) Delhi & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(21) Uttarakhand & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(22) Himachal Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(23) Gujarat & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(24) Punjab & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(25) Odisha & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(26) Bengal & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(27) Tamil Nadu & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(28) Andhra & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(29) Uttar Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)