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

Sunday, May 05, 2013


By M H Ahssan / Bangalore

With just few days left for the high-stake assembly elections in Karnataka, this BJP-ruled southern state of the country is witnessing a fierce political campaign to woo voters. While major parties have roped in star political campaigners and celebrities to influence voters, myriad promises have been made and various sops have been offered this time too in their respective election manifestoes. 

The fast approaching assembly elections in Karnataka, the outcome of which will set the tone and tempo for the 2014 General Elections, is also crucial for the ruling BJP that suffered huge reverses in the recently concluded urban local body polls. Interestingly, barring the exception of 1985 when Ramakrishna Hegde stormed back to power with a huge mandate, Karnataka has never elected an incumbent government back to power since 1983 when the Janata Dal destroyed Congress’ monopoly on state politics forever.
BJP Situation
More than any other party, the assembly polls here will be a do-or-die battle for BJP, which has been struggling hard to save its southern stronghold. Holding on to the success achieved by the saffron party here in 2008 assembly polls - a game changer for the BJP as it was its first electoral success in south of the Vindhyas - now seems to be an increasingly difficult proposition. 

Since the party is largely confined to north India, losing the state will clearly shatter BJP’s dreams to expand its base beyond Karnataka in the south. Hence, Karnataka occupies a strategic place in the BJP`s political roadmap and in its bigger scheme of things to seize power at the Centre by dislodging the Congress-led UPA government. 

However, in the wake of its electoral drubbing in the urban civic polls, which forced it into an introspective mood, the saffron part’s prospects are not too bright. The party is hemmed by factional feuds, infighting and mired with controversies. The party has earned a bad reputation due to poor governance and after the exit of BS Yeddyurappa - the most influential leader of the power Lingayat community- the going for the BJP is surely tough. Karnataka was once an investment-friendly state and seen as an ideal business destination but the state’s poor infrastructure and widespread corruption has prevented the big corporate houses from entering the state. The ruling party has failed miserably to effectively market the government’s achievements in the past five years. Several BJP MLAs, ministers and local leaders have deserted the BJP to join Yeddyurappa’s KJP. 

BJP is strong in coastal Karnataka, Mumbai-Karnataka, Hyderabad-Karnataka but week and almost non-existent in Bangalore region, Central Karnataka and Old Mysore region. Interestingly, the assembly elections will also give the BJP an opportunity to test the appeal of Narendra Modi, who is increasingly being projected as the party`s face in 2014 and pitched against Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi in the race for the prime minister’s post. 

Modi’s magic has worked thrice in a row in Gujarat and probably that is the reason why the Karnataka BJP is relying on him to boost its electoral prospects. A section of BJP leaders here think that an incremental, positive vote in favour of Modi will considerably cut down the anti-incumbency vote against the ruling party in Karnataka. 

Though some oppose roping Modi in Karnataka, there is no disagreement over the fact that Modi`s leadership quality transcends caste and linguistic barriers. Since he is the face of good governance and progress in India, his development mantra may strike a chord with the electorate in Karnataka. The middle class support for BJP’s Hindutva ideology in the state is well known and this could be another reason for Modi to flex his muscles in Karnataka.

Congress Strategies
The main opposition party clearly has an upper hand in Karnataka, according to a recent poll survey which showed it comfortably ahead of the ruling BJP in the wake of its thumping victory in the civic polls. However, Congress also faces a tough competition from B Sri Ramulu, who recently deserted the BJP and floated a new political outfit (BSR), and the JD-S led by former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda. 

Interestingly, Karnataka will also be the first state to go to polls after Rahul Gandhi’s elevation to the Congress vice-president’s post. Thus the assembly polls here will be the Gandhi scion’s first leadership test that will provide him the opportunity to demonstrate his political skills and set the tone for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. With the ruling BJP fighting anti-incumbency factor and corruption allegations combined with its recent civic poll drubbings, campaigning by Rahul Gandhi can further bolster Congress’ poll prospects here. 

A positive verdict for the Congress will certainly have a big bearing on Rahul`s leadership. Yet with factionalism and one-upmanship bogging down the party, it may not be smooth sailing for Congress. The Gandhi scion has seriously started working to wrest back Karnataka for the Congress and has brought in a new mechanism in the form of a special group to coordinate, campaign and monitor the state election. 

By excluding 81-year-old veteran SM Krishna from the manifesto and election strategy committee, it indicates that Rahul`s mantra of infusing youth into party has worked. With many contenders for the CM`s chair and inner feud limiting the party`s prospects, Rahul may finally give election responsibility to one of the heavyweight leaders instead of projecting a CM candidate straightaway.

The JD-S Mantra
While assembly elections are crucial for the BJP and the Congress, the stakes are high for the Janata Dal (Secular) led by HD Deve Gowda and his son HD Kumaraswamy. For the JD-S, which is strong in the southern Karnataka (Old Mysore region), this will be the fourth assembly election for the party. 

While Yedyurappa takes credit for swinging the Lingayat vote in favour of the BJP in 2008, the father-son duo has its influence mainly among Vokkaligas- another powerful community and an important component of the state’s caste-based politics. 

Reflecting its pro-farmers leaning, the JD-S has said it would waive loans of farmers, if voted to power. And, in its strategy of wooing Muslims, it has promised to implement the recommendations of the Sacchar Committee.

KJP Scenario
The unceremonious exit of BS Yeddyurappa has hurt the BJP badly and it was felt for the first time when the results of the urban local body polls were announced. Though, the BSY’s fledgling Karnataka Janatha Paksha (KJP) failed to throw a major surprise in the urban civic polls, it surely achieved its ‘limited purpose’ of spoiling the game for the BJP. 

Honestly speaking, the KJP is not being considered as a serious contender in the next assembly polls, but its campaign so far has generated enough heat. As the party president, Yeddyurappa has been leveraging the Lingayat factor to the hilt in trying to claw his way back to power, after being expelled from the BJP following his indictment by the state Lokayukta for large-scale corruption. 

The Lingayat strongman, who recently vowed in the name of God and Allah that he will never return to BJP. also promised a Rs 2,000-crore budget for Muslims for their welfare in the KJP manifesto.

BSR Hurdles
BSR Congress, floated by former BJP minister B Sreeramulu, is still an unknown entity in Karnataka politics. BSR stands for Badava Shramkia Raitha (Poor Working Farmer). Sreeramulu, who is close to the Bellary mining baron Janardhan Reddy, now languishing in a Hyderabad prison. belongs to the Nayak community, which has its presence in four districts - Bellary, Raichur, Koppal and Gadag in the central eastern part of the state. 

BSR’s influence is said to be limited to only 10 per cent of the total of 224 constituencies in the state. However, when Sreeramulu and Janardhan Reddy were active in the 2008 Assembly elections, their influence and money power played a major role in pulling big votes for the BJP in these districts. In the Lok Sabha elections held in 2009, the duo helped the BJP win the constituencies of this region, even though the Sreeramulu`s sister J Shantha scraped through with a margin of 2000 votes. 

Reddy and Sreeramulu ruled Bellary with an iron hand during the three- year rule of BS Yeddyurappa, but the mining scandal took its toll. Sreeramulu resigned from the Assembly, won a by-election and floated his own outfit. He has gone on padayatras in the region, and hopes that his party will do well in the dozen constituencies reserved for scheduled tribes in the region. As Janardhan Reddy is in jail and there is a ban on mining, the critical question is on how much funds Sreeramulu will have. 

The Karnataka Assembly comprises of 224 members. There are 4.18 crore voters in Karnataka and voting will take place at 50446 polling stations.

Key Issues
Dissidence and scandals
BS Yeddyurappa or the man who had led the BJP to victory in Karnataka in 2008, helping it to form its first government in the South, left the party in December 2012 after 40 years. He was indicted by the state Lokayukta of corruption and nepotism. Subsequently, he resigned as the CM, did a stint in jail and later left his parent party after much bitterness and finally formed his own party - the Karnataka Janata Party. Needless to say, even with the taint of corruption over him, BSY’s leaving the BJP was a big blow to the party as he was and remains one of the most popular leaders of the Lingayat community which are traditionally seen to vote as a block. 

Also, in a setback to the BJP, couple of its leaders like Belur Gopalakrishna, Shashil Namoshi, Manappa Vajjal and Raju Gowda joined the JD(S) after feeling left out in ticket distribution. 

Meanwhile, the Congress, though feeling upbeat after reports indicate that it is set to form the next government in the southern state, is reeling under its own problems of rebellion and dissidence. One of the glaring examples is the much publicized battle for Srirangapatna ticket in Mandya district between former union minister SM Krishna and Union Minister and actor MH Ambareesh. The Congress high command finally buckled under pressure from Ambareesh, who had refused to file his nomination papers from Mandya and replaced Srirangapatna`s candidate Ravindra Srikantaiah, who was SM Krishna`s nominee with SL Lingaraju, an Ambareesh supporter. 

In more headaches for the Congress, former minister and Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee vice-president A Krishnappa declared that he was leaving the party to join the Janata Dal (Secular) chief HD Deve Gowda as he was angry at the decision to field Bhyrati Basavaraju in KR Puram. Meanwhile, G Padmavathi, three-time BBMP councillor, is contesting as a rebel candidate from Rajajinagar as she was angry with the Congress decision to give ticket to the Karnataka Mahila Congress president Manjula Naidu. 

The BJP could have done without this one – The porn scandal which rocked the Karnataka Assembly on February last year when three of its ministers, Laxman Savadi, CC Patil and Krishna Palemar, were caught on camera watching sleazy clippings on their mobile phone in the House. The Opposition Congress and JDS members sought suspension and disqualification of the ministers involved and subsequently the then chief minister DV Sadananda Gowda removed them from the Cabinet. However, the damage had been done with the episode denting the party’s image and leaving the people of the state shocked. 

Another episode which embarrassed the BJP was the resignation of Food and civil supplies minister Haratalu Halappa in 2010, when BS Yeddyurappa was the CM, following a report in a Kannada daily that he had allegedly sexually assaulted a friend`s wife in Shimoga. The Congress and the Janata Dal (S) seized the opportunity to hit out at the BJP and Halappa saying that it was a political conspiracy hatched by his opponents did not really have any takers.

Five years back Karnataka made headlines because the BJP had managed to win the state in the 2008 Assembly polls – it was the national party’s first government in the South. However, five years down the line, the BJP as well as the state have become synonyms with corruption – not because of its people but the political class. 

For a state whose former chief minister – BS Yeddyurappa (who has now quit the ruling BJP and formed his own Karnataka Janata Party or the KJP) – was accused and indicted for large-scale corruption during his tenure, whose ministers - G Janardhana Reddy and G Karunakara Reddy, better known as Reddy brothers of Bellary - were sent to jail for masterminding one of the biggest scams and looting the natural resources to an unimaginable scale (illegal mining scam), corruption seems to have become a way of life. 

The vast iron ore resources and the realty boom in the state, especially IT hub Bangalore, have all given birth to a political class that has institutionalised corruption turning the issue into a non-issue, and people too appear to have come to terms with the malice and accepted it as a political practice. When former prime minister and JD(S) leader HD Deve Gowda recently said, “corruption was not an issue in the Karnataka polls,” he was only stating the obvious. 

Many contest the allegations against the BJP were politically motivated and no one questioned the motives of the previous Congress government. However, there are still others who believe that the situation has gotten worse during the BJP regime and has brought disrepute to the state’s name. 

In the latest twist, Yeddyurappa’s KJP accused BJP veteran LK Advani of taking money from the former chief minister to let him continue as the head of the state government at the time when he was facing corruption charges. 

To salvage whatever it can, the ruling BJP has asked for ‘forgiveness’ from the state’s voters, with Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar stating, “Those who gave us a bad name have left the party.”

Illegal mining
What corruption is to Karnataka, illegal mining is to Bellary. The plundering of natural wealth in the state, especially in Bellary by the then state ministers G Karunakara Reddy and G Janardhana Reddy, has put the district’s name on the national map. 

As per an investigation by the Karnataka Lokayukta (Santosh Hegde), illegal mining has caused the state a loss to the tune of Rs 16,000 crores. Involved in this loot of iron ore were firms like the Obulapuram Mining Company owned by the Reddy brothers. The Reddys are accused of mining iron ore while paying miniscule royalty to the state government. These companies have also been accused of environmental exploitation and having least regard for the nature. The duo was also accused of floating companies that acted as a front for their illegal mining operations. The probe by the Lokayukta had found that the illegal export of ore had jumped from 53,55,660 metric tonnes in 2008-09 to 1,27,99,396 metric tonnes in 2009-10. 

Illegal mining in the state was banned by the Supreme Court some two years ago and many leaders from the BJP, Congress and JD(S) are under scrutiny. In fact, while the Reddy brothers are behind the bars in the case, former CM, BS Yeddyurappa is out on anticipatory bail. The SC had recently lifted the ban on mining in Karnataka partially while providing no relief to the Reddy brothers. 

The issue is expected to play a major role in the coming polls as it not only involves corruption but exploiting state’s natural resources for the benefit of a very select group of people.

Anti-incumbency and lack of governance

BJP in all likelihood may lose the first state in south where it came to power in 2008 as most of the reports, trends and surveys indicate a strong anti-incumbency factor in Karnataka. The party, which was upbeat after Narendra Modi-led BJP came back to power in Gujarat in December last year, may see a reversal of fortunes in the southern state with the Congress in all likelihood set to form the next government. 

According to a recent survey, the Congress is projected to get a simple majority in the 224-member Assembly, which also said that the ruling BJP was likely to lose substantial ground in the elections. It predicted more than 125 seats for the Congress and the BJP, which won 104 in the 2008 polls, may get less than 50 seats. 

Another survey too suggested almost the same results. As per the survey, only 22% respondents thought that BJP would come back to power while 38% favoured the Congress. It also indicated that the Congress would get more than 130 seats and the BJP would be left with around 63 seats. 

The survey also said that corruption, inflation, stability and security were the top concerns of the people but the main issue in these elections was the corruption factor. Moreover, Karnataka whose 184 constituencies out of 224 are rural has draught, sanitation, right price for agricultural products and health care as the main issues. These are the problems that may come back to haunt the BJP come polling day. 

It is ironical, to say the least, that the Bhartiya Janata Party which has been relentlessly attacking the Congress on the matters of corruption and non-governance at the Centre is on a sticky wicket on the same matters in Karnataka. The indictment of its former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa in the land scam and illegal mining case seriously damaged the image of the BJP as a clean party. 

Also its former ministers - G Janardhana Reddy and G Karunakara Reddy of Bellary – going to jail in illegal mining scam did not help matters. The closing down of more than 120 mines in Bellary district by the Supreme Court left many jobless, creating resentment among voters. 

It seemed that the tag of BJP being the party with a difference was just a misnomer, at least as far as Karnataka was concerned. However, the moot question is – Will the Congress benefit from BJP’s shortcomings. And also whether Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar saying – “We already expressed regrets and apology. Whatever bad things happened in the government regarding corruption or other charges, for that we apologized” – will placate the voters enough to give the BJP another shot in forming the government.

Caste conundrum: Lingayat Vs Vokaliga
Controlled by powerful seers and maths, the Lingayat and Vokaliga castes have always played a pivotal role in deciding the electoral fortunes of political parties in Karnataka. 

Siddaganga Mutt in Tumkur, Moorusavira Mutt in Hubli or Adichunchungiri Mutt in Mysore are among the powerful religious centres whose approval is considered crucial by all political parties. 

While Lingayats dominate north Karnataka, the Vokaligas are in strength in Mysore-Mandya region of south Karnataka. 

The BJP won its first frontier in the south in 2008 riding on a massive support in its favour in both the communities. While Lingayats, who constitute 17% of Karnataka’s 65 million the population, have traditionally been known to have supported the BJP, it is the support of the Vokaligas – 16% of population - that proved the clincher. 

But that was another time and age. In 2013, the BJP is fighting without its most influential Lingayat leader BS Yeddyurappa and the party is uncertain about the support of Vokaligas, who are seen to be gravitating towards HD Kumaraswamy, who belongs to the same caste. 

It remains to be seen whether incumbent Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar, a Lingayat himself, will be able to hold to the support of the community or whether Yeddyurappa’s Karnataka Jana Paksha will manage to wean away the community from the tutelage of the BJP.

Bangalore: The urban gateway to Vidhan Souda
With 28 constituencies, Bangalore holds the potential to swing the elections. All political parties have rolled out ‘exclusive’ poll manifesto for the IT city. 

From affordable housing to drinking water and better commute options, the promises are aplenty. There is lies the dichotomy of the situation. On one hand the citizens of burgeoning metropolis want to hold onto the aspirations to see their city emerge as a truly global IT hub, on the other they have to struggle for basic civic amenities. 

In the 2008 Assembly elections, the BJP had bagged 18 out of 28 seats and formed the government in the state. However, the corruption ridden state government track record in improving the civic amenities in the city left much to be desired. 

The biggest problem being improper garbage disposal; Bangalore is stinking! 

The Congress may reverse the situation given the anti-incumbency against the BJP. Also, the JD(S) is keen to occupy the space which it hopes will be vacated by the BJP and is fighting to change its image of only being a pro-rural party.
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