New Equations in Karnataka
Karnataka will be facing Assembly elections in March-April next year. The BJP, currently on the back foot, will be using all the stratagems in its bag to grab power in this southern state, having tasted it earlier. The party is not in pink of its health, thanks largely to internal schisms owing to confrontation between Mr. Yeddyurappa and Mr. Eashwarappa, its OBC mascot. Demand for religious minority tag for the Lingayath community, so far the main bulwark of support among the social components, has also dampened the spirit of the party. Portents are ominous as it threatens to vertically divide the party’s vote base in northern parts of the state. One is unsure as to the demand’s potential to cause political churning within the section which constitutes nearly 16% of the state’s population. As of now, votaries of the minority tag are clearly ascendant.
Thirdly, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has made some vital dents into the opponent’s camp. His political correctness was manifest when he lent support to two-language policy for display of signages in the Namma Metro network in Bengaluru. He was shrewd enough to press the trigger in this context but allowed the baton to be passed on to pro-Kannada organizations to take it further. He backed out of the issue in a manner of rescuing himself, lest the issue become a liability for the pan-Indian Congress Party. Having bagged two Assembly by-elections in the southern parts of the State three months ago, Siddaramiah seems to be going full steam to woo all sections of the voters. Indira Canteens, patterned after Amma Canteens in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, are the latest among his sops to win the support of the poor. He may even choose to release the Caste Census result on the eve of elections to woo the votes of the OBCs, a category that transcends all communities. Congress has to resist the temptation of appeasing the minorities and having any pre-poll alliance with the Janata Dal-Secular. Any attempt to do these would lend psychological advantage to the BJP.
However, for the BJP, Karnataka will be a key state to register itself as a truly pan-Indian party. That it has already ruled the state for a term is currently its major plus point. It poses itself as a strong contender for the second term. As of now, the party is a divided house. Its leader Mr. Yeddyurappa, who demonstrated good administrative abilities, sorely lacks the charm to command confidence of multifarious interests within the party. Though he has come out clean of several corruption cases, the party has to grapple with new social equations emerging in the state.
As for the Janata Dal-Secular, the party is in shambles what with the third generation descendant himself having accused it of a being ‘suitcase party’. The party is losing it support base in a major way and may be betting for just around a dozen seats to be in the role of a kingmaker situation if the ballot boxes were to produce a hung house.
Monsoon seems to be playing a spoilsport for the ruling Congress currently. Its major deficiency lies in failure to diversify the economic development across the state. The capital Bengaluru continues to yield 60% of the State’s GDP. Hyderabad-Karnataka districts reel under severe neglect. Elsewhere, three years of drought have sapped economic dynamism. Drinking water scarcity remains a sore point all across the state. With all these, the Congress also carries the weight of incumbency which in itself is no less cumbersome.