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

Friday, April 26, 2013


By M H Ahssan / Bangalore

If there is one thing BJP leaders have been averse to discussing during this Karnataka election campaign, it is BS Yeddyurappa and how their former colleague is likely to split the traditional BJP vote. So what do they talk about instead? The leadership crisis in the Karnataka Congress.

Law minister Suresh Kumar could not help taking potshots at how former chief minister and foreign minister SM Krishna is making a valiant bid to stay relevant in Karnataka politics. He pointed out, with a considerable degree of amusement, how a photograph of Krishna playing tennis was released to the press recently just to send across a message to his critics that he was fighting fit. Being overpopulated with chief ministerial aspirants would prove the Congress party’s nemesis, predicts the BJP.

Call it wishful thinking of a party that seems to have given up any hope of returning to power but Suresh Kumar is both right and wrong. Going into an election without projecting a face certainly has its drawbacks, since voters like to know who their CM will be if they vote for a particular party candidate. But in the Congress scheme of things, the problem of plenty means projecting one person will mean strong dissidence right through the campaign.

Karnataka is well represented in the Congress party and the government power structure in Delhi. Apart from Krishna, who was part of the cabinet till recently, there are senior leaders like Veerappa Moily, Mallikarjun Kharge, KH Muniyappa, K Rehman Khan, Oscar Fernandes and B K Hariprasad. Then you have Margaret Alva, currently Governor of Rajasthan, who may not mind a homecoming. Given that 2014 Lok Sabha polls won’t be a cakewalk for those who choose to contest them, none of them would mind moving his or her postal address to Bangalore from New Delhi.

There’s no dearth of leadership at the state level. Most predict a toss-up between Leader of Opposition Siddaramaiah and PCC chief G Parameshwara if the Congress comes to power. The two leaders are already locked in a battle for supremacy, with both going all out to demonstrate their popularity in Rahul Gandhi‘s presence.

Of course, it will finally depend on how strong the support base of each of the two leaders is within the new Congress Legislature Party but then in the Congress scheme of things, the High command has the final say. And senior leaders, who claim to have heard it from Sonia Gandhi herself, say the Congress president is in favour of appointing a Dalit to the top job, which is interpreted as an advantage for Parameshwara.

Caste arithmetic will also play a role in such a decision. Dalits constitute nearly 20 per cent of Karnataka’s population. In comparison, the Kurba community to which Siddaramaiah belongs, constitutes 8 per cent. However, between the two, Siddaramaiah is a more popular leader and a better orator.

A decision in favour of a Dalit CM, the Congress reckons, would be a masterstroke in the run-up to the general elections in 2014 as it will send a message to the scheduled caste community in the country at large. And for a party that thrives on symbolism, Congress leaders believe Karnataka having a Dalit CM could be a stepping stone to UPA 3 government at the Centre.

However, Parameshwara may not be the most obvious choice. Mallikarjun Kharge could be the dark horse, with Siddaramaiah made deputy chief minister. Like Parameshwara, Kharge is also a Dalit but is a more senior leader and perceived to be a better administrator.

“The big difference between them is that while Parameshwara is known for his urban sophistry and Kharge for his rusticity. The common Dalit does not connect with Parameshwara,” said SA Hemantha Kumar, political analyst.

Kharge, who was born in Bidar, represents Gulbarga constituency in the Lok Sabha, both of which are part of the backward Hyderabad-Karnatak region that was accorded special status last year after a Bill was passed in Parliament. The argument in Kharge’s favour is that the chief minister coming from the region could provide an impetus to development activity in the region. Significantly, Rahul Gandhi started his campaign from Raichur district, also part of Hyderabad-Karnatak region.

The one factor that could go against Kharge is if the Congress leadership decides that only an MLA should become chief minister. But then a precedent has already been set in Uttarkhand, where Vijay Bahuguna was forced on the state leadership last year.

Interestingly, a churn has also taken place within the BJP. With the exit of BS Yeddyurappa, the state unit is now totally under the control of Ananth Kumar. The Yeddyurappa-Ananth Kumar relationship is what caused many a rift within the state BJP. Though Jagadish Shettar as the chief minister is leading the campaign this time, nothing moves in the Karnataka BJP without Ananth Kumar’s nod.

The only two parties where the CM candidate is clear are the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Karnataka Janatha Paksha. But though HD Kumaraswamy and Yeddyurappa respectively know they have no chance of coming to power on their own, they would fancy their chances of making it to the top post in the event of a fractured mandate that would necessitate either the Congress or the BJP to form a coalition. Both aspirations are likely to remain in the realm of dreams because after having had a bitter experience with political instability since 2004, Karnataka voters may not be in a mood to put up with any more natakas (dramas).

So no matter the result of the polls in the state, who will be the next chief minister of Karnataka is unlikely to be answered in a hurry on May 8.

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