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Karnataka Assembly Elections 2013 – Congress on a Strong Wicket

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BJP’s fractured votebase and dented images has made the Congress task easy in Karnataka

By a Political Analyst

Congress’ main test would lie in projecting its Chief Ministerial candidate.

Siddramaiah has reinforced his claim to the CM’s post by declaring this to be his last election.

Karnataka’s nearly 50 million voters would be electing 224 members of the Assembly on April 5. The election results for 208 urban local bodies (Bangalore Municipal Corporation was not one among them) have indicated that the Indian National Congress is clearly frontrunner by winning nearly 40% wards. The ruling BJP in the State has been beaten to third place while the Janata Dal Secular has garnered nearly 20% wards. The new outfits, Karnataka Janata Party (KJP) floated by former BJP chief minister Yeddyurappa, has won in as many as 25o wards while Bellary MLA Sriramulu’s BSR Congress has bagged a little over 70 wards.
Roughly, if the same trend continues, and the Congress is able to maintain its voting percentage, it might be eyeing nearly 145 seats in the 224-member house. The Yeddyurappa’s party, KJP has played spoilsport and it might end up winning less than 40 seats, yielding around 10 seats to the rebel outfit and losing about 50 to the Congress due to the fractured votebase.
The Chiefministerial Hopefuls
Yet not everything is hunky dory for the Congress. It of course, benefits from its anti-incumbency status and is in a better position to seek votes with reference to the highly dented image of the BJP owing to enormity of corruption as well as the political instability during the last five years when the ruling party saw three chief ministers into the office. But the Congress’ major handicap so far has been its inability to project the chief ministerial candidate. Opposition leader Siddramaiah and KPCC President Dr. Parmeshwara are major contenders and the party must risk a friction-ridden campaign if it were to name the man for the hot seat prior to elections. The party should reasonably expect considerable amount of rebel candidates from among its ranks as on an average every seat has more than half a dozen strong contenders for the Congress ticket. The ones denied the ticket may jeorpardise the winning prospects of the candidates in the battlefield. The KPCC office is already witnessing much of the jostling and jockeying among the hopefuls as nearly 2,500 applicants have queued up for 224 seats.
Significantly, none of two chief ministerial hopefuls of the Congress are from the dominant castes i.e., the Lingayaths (17% of the population, mainly concentrated in the northern districts of the State) and Vokkaligaras (12%, mainly dominated the southern districts of the State). How would these sections behave is a major imponderable. Mr. Siddramaiah belongs to Kuruba community (about 5% of the State population) while Dr. Parameshwara is a Dalit leader. Siddramaiah is from the old socialist club while Parameshwara is a technocrat with a Ph.D. degree in Agriculture from Australia. Siddramaiah has earlier been deputy chief minister twice during Janata Dal Secular ministry. Parameshwara has all along been a Congressman having held various portfolios in several ministries. Though both had a clean record in public life, Parameshwara enjoys an edge over Siddramaiah in matters of loyalty to the party. Mr. Siddramaiah has reinforced his claim for the post with the declaration that it would be his last election. The Congress can therefore mollify Parameshwara with the promise of the seat in future. What however seems settled is that chief ministership will not go to any dominant caste groups as Congress can afford to deny this position to its major constituency of OBCs, SCs and the Minorities only at its own peril.
BJP and JDS are much weakened
Yet going by the caste based sinews of power, Veerashaivas or the Lingayaths and Vokkaligaras cannot be wished away. But Lingayath votebank seems hugely fractured with major sections confused on the question of backing the BJP or the KJP, the new party floated by Mr. Yeddyurappa. The Congress Party will be better advised to keep encouraging Mr. Yeddyurappa rather than focusing on lampooning the BJP and its ideology. Similarly, the Janata Dal Secular is not in the pink of health. The party lost in its main hinterland of Ramanagram and Mysore heavily in the local bodies polls. Even in matters of total numbers, its victories in ULBs were several notches down than in 2007. Major chunks of Vokkaligara votes may be heading the Congress way this time as the JDS is perceived as a Baap-Beta party (with former prime minister Devegowda and his progeny ruling the roost) and several of the clan members embroiled in land scams.
Muslims are inclined towards Congress
There can be hardly two opinions about Muslims in Karnataka inclining towards the Congress party. With Muslims having won about 950 wards in the Urban Local Bodies in the recent elections, they are hoping for a better slice of seats from the Congress party. The community organizations have staked a claim for 30 seats, but the party may not be able to spare more than 20, against the 17 in 2008. A series of conventions have urged enhanced representation of Muslims in the Assembly. The only other party from which a couple of Muslims could be expected to win is JDS. But general mood is in favour of overwhelmingly supporting the Congress.
There is however a departure from the past. The community organization are busy setting agenda for themselves. Wish-lists from the community are doing rounds. Yet not much cogency can be seen in these efforts.
Had not the BJP been a divided house, the party would have been a strong contender for returning to power in the State on the basis of performance. To be fair to the party, it could be said that it was more perceived as a Lingayath Party during its tenure rather than a communal party. Except for sporadic communal incidents in the coastal districts and the anti-cow slaughter bill, the party did not behave as it does in the northern states. But the party’s votebase having been sabotaged by Yeddyurappa, it faces a rout as of now. The party will certainly not be routed on the basis of performance, for the rural areas of the state have received a better deal with power situation remaining stable (thanks to power lent from brotherly Chhattisgarh government), and roads and water supply having improved.