Group President, Group Managing Director & Editor In Chief: Dr.Shelly Ahmed

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

KARNATAKA A BIG TEST FOR 'RAHUL AND MODI'

The tendency to treat the Karnataka elections in May as an indicator of what is likely to happen in national elections, particularly if the parliamentary elections are held earlier than scheduled, may be misleading. There are very few states in the country that can be taken as indicators of the national mood and Karnataka is certainly not one of them.

What makes the Karnataka polls interesting from the national perspective is that both the BJP and the Congress have an opportunity to test out their strategies for the parliamentary poll. And the Karnataka polls could very well provide an indication of just how effective the strategies of Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi will prove to be.


BJP Scenario
On the face of it Karnataka offers a rare opportunity for Narendra Modi to demonstrate the working of his Macho politics.

The BJP in the state is clearly on the back foot. The fair- weather friends who brought the party to power in 2008 have left it in droves. This goes far beyond the loyalists of B S Yediyurappa who have moved into his Karnataka Janata Party. Others have found their way into the JD( S) and the Congress. Yet others, including a former minister, have quit the BJP on the mere hope of getting a Congress ticket and now find themselves party- less and ticket- less.

To make matters worse there are also signs of aggressive Hindutva being a voteloser.

Long before the BJP came to power in Karnataka it had a strong cadre- based stronghold in coastal Karnataka.

When it came to power this area became the laboratory for its strong Hindutva methods. Churches were targeted, young couples of mixed religions were attacked, and moral policing took on a new momentum.

But far from attracting fresh support, the BJP appears to have lost ground in this region. In the recent elections to Urban Local Bodies in this region the BJP lost several ULBs, including one that it had not lost for 40 years.

If Narendra Modi were to step in now and deliver Karnataka to the BJP he would be able to present himself to the nation as the political superhero India was waiting for. And within the BJP all challenges to his leadership will fall by the wayside. Which makes it all the more interesting that Narendra Modi has not shown any inclination to take over the leadership of the Karnataka battle.

He was not among the national leaders who launched the party’s campaign in the state. Is it that the situation of the BJP in Karnataka is too adverse for even the Gujarat strongman?

Congress Strategy

If the conditions facing the BJP are not the most favourable, the Congress is, at the moment at least, expected to be the main beneficiary. The JD( S) is yet to completely erase the image of being only a southern Karnataka party and the new parties, including that of Yediyurappa, cannot hope to capture more than a handful of seats. The main focus of aspirants seeking to leave the BJP has therefore been the Congress.

Sonia Gandhi’s party has of course been in this position before. But it has previously shown a remarkable ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by giving tickets to those who cannot win.

The choice of candidates in Karnataka is made more complex by the nature of decentralisation in the state. The elections to the first level of rural local bodies, the gram panchayats, are held on a party- less basis. This allows for the emergence of local leaders who do not owe an allegiance to any political party. Some of these leaders have been able to increase their independent political clout to a level where they can win an assembly constituency on their own. Yediyurappa demonstrated the independent strength of these MLAs in opposition parties by getting them to resign their seats and win as members of the BJP. Assembly elections in the largely cadre- less politics of Karnataka are essentially a matter of getting together the largest number of such winning candidates.

The Karnataka elections will be a test for Rahul Gandhi’s ability to make the right choices in his first major polls as Vice President of the Congress.

He appears to have taken the view that the ability of the Congress to unerringly choose the wrong candidates is the huge information gap between the politics in the local constituency in Karnataka and the decision making in Delhi. Since Rajiv Gandhi’s time the effort in Delhi has been to reduce this gap through the use of technology.

Large amounts of data have been thrown into computers in Delhi. But as often happens in efforts to collect very large quantities of data, the quality of the data can get very uneven. And what you then get is a situation of ‘ Garbage in, Garbage out’ as one Union Minister put it when talking of data in another context.

Change
Rahul Gandhi has apparently tried to get around this problem by a return to the grassroots. He has insisted that the candidates for the tickets should first be shortlisted at the district level.

He has then got separate lists from the state leadership.

In addition lists have been prepared by leaders of individual communities. Names that were common to all the lists were cleared automatically.

The debate was then confined to the cases where there were two or three strong contenders.

This approach has reduced the chances of ridiculously weak outsiders the Congress has been known to put up in the past. But this still leaves open the option of the loser among two strong candidates opposing the official nominee. And she may not even have to do so as an independent.

All political parties have kept their doors open to rebels from other parties.

In this grassroots based politics of Karnataka, the national leadership may not have too much to offer. But it will be interesting to see if either Rahul Gandhi or Narendra Modi has the skill to project a locally determined victory as a sign of their national leadership skills.
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