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Karnataka Elections-II – BJP on Unsure Ground

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Congress can count upon its good performance. JD-S vote-base has shrunk.

By A Staff Writer

Karnataka will be going to polls in April-May this year as a new government has to be ushered into the office by May 13 on completion of the five-year tenure of the current Congress Government in the state. It is after a long time that a government headed by a single Chief Minister””in this case Mr. Siddramaiah””has completed five years in office. This works well for the image of Mr. Siddramaiah. But a quick look back reveals that no state government was returned to power in the state since 1985.
Mr. Siddramaiah and the Congress Government had a comfortable reign in the state despite a hostile BJP constantly breathing down their neck all along. More significantly, the Siddramaiah Government’s run had been scam-free, an achievement shared by few other regimes. His bête noire State BJP chief Mr. Yeddyurappa, set several dates to bring out a charge sheet of corruption against him. But nothing came off him. There were only red faces in the BJP.

Losing Steam
Although the BJP is at the helm in Goa and is an ally of Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka is seen as the major potential state in Southern India where it could emerge as the ruling party on its own. Having wrested Uttar Pradesh convincingly and adding Bihar to its kitty through default, the BJP would be sparing nothing in the game to have Karnataka on its side. But poll pundits are keener to factor the labored victory in Gujarat and drastic decline in Rajasthan as evident from three by-elections, as more vital indicators of the party’s losing steam.
Compared to their Northern counterparts, the political rivals in Southern States treat each other in a fairly decent manner. It is never a case of spewing fire and brimstone or reaching for the jugular. Given its track record and performance, the Congress has done well in the state. A host of populist schemes launched by the Chief Minister have worked well and he was firmly in saddle all the five years without any dissidence within. The two opposition parties, the BJP and the JD-S””having 40 seats each in the house””were all along unsure of their support base. Of late, however, the BJP has tried injecting a lot of momentum. Defections from the ranks of the JD-S to Congress are however casting doubt about the party’s base.

Favourable Indices
The Congress performed remarkably well in the Zilla Parishad polls held two years ago bagging 498 seats with 47% votes. The BJP had garnered around 35% votes, which translated into 408 seats. The JD-S had to be content with 148 seats, with a little over 15% votes. It is indicative of the shrinking base of the JD-S. The Congress bagged the two seats for which by-elections were held in Mysore district last April. In one of these seats it trounced veteran Congressman turned rebel Srinivas Prasad was fielded by the BJP. Not to be ignored is the fact that Mr. S. M. Krishna, former Chief Minister of the State, who is now in the Congress (following IT raids on firms owned by his son-in law Siddharth Hegde, the Chairman of the Coffee Day franchisee chain) also campaigned for the BJP.

Two pointers emerge from this. First the JD-S’ base has definitively shrunk among the Vokkaliga community and more particularly in Old Mysore areas where it could count upon some sure seats. Second, the disenchanted followers are moving towards the Congress rather than the BJP. Eight of the JD-S legislators in the current Assembly are lining up for Congress ticket. Yet these should merely serve as indications of popular mood. The final outcome would however depend on whether the Congress could convince the people of its good performance and the BJP is successful in polarizing the voters.

Even an opinion survey by C-fore, close to the BJP, in August 2017 had indicated that Congress could garner 43% of votes, BJP 32% and the JD-S 17%. Finding it discouraging, the TV channel which sponsored it, disowned it and refused to telecast it. It was however picked up by other channels.
Though the Congress does not suffer from any internal deficiencies, it cannot ignore the fact that its victory was facilitated in 2013 by a split in the BJP. Yeddyurappa had then floated his own party, Karnataka Janata Party, taking away a slice of 7% of total votes. His nominees could even corner seven Assembly seats. But it would be naïve to think that BJP is united behind him. His insolence has been responsible for a party veteran Eshwarappa carrying on a tirade against him. He is considered to be the OBC mascot of the BJP. He is all likely to covertly put up independents against staunch loyalists of Yeddyurappa.

Plentiful Monsoon
The Congress can also count upon a very favourable monsoon late last year which has heartened the rural constituency of the Congress. Yet, the mood of the electorate would be shaped by the issues that play out in the electoral arena. Karnataka has been rejecting incumbents and electing parties in Opposition in the Centre for the last three decades. It all remains to be seen if trends like these determine the popular choice.