Karnataka’s Pre-Election Scenario A Comprehensive Overview
“Unpleasant Past; Nebulous Present; Uncertain Future” is what the situation in which all the four parties Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Janata Dal (Secular) and Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP) are placed with a week to go for the elections to the Karnataka Legislative Assembly slated on May 5. The counting is on May 8 for 224 seats, spread across 30 districts of the state with as many as 50,000 polling booths to be set up by the Election Commission.
With the exit of former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa, a Lingayat strongman, from the BJP in October last year, the BJP is in shambles notwithstanding the tall claims being made by its state leaders of returning to power with absolute majority. The defeat of the BJP in the Urban Local Bodies elections on February 4 was the writing on the wall for the BJP about the shape of things to come in future. Yeddyurappa has floated his own regional outfit, KJP and has already toured about 200 assembly segments.
With the BJP’s state leadership having been gripped by Lemming Complex—a phenomenon of committing mass suicide that is found among vole-like rodents that inhabit the coasts of Scandinavian countries—the defeatist mindset of the BJP had to literally struggle to find formidable candidates in as many as 25 constituencies but managed to field “somebody or the other” just a day before the last day for the filing of the nomination papers.
The intensity of predicament of the BJP can be gauged by the fact that it was the BJP which was the last to release its manifesto. It may be recalled that it used to be the BJP which was the first party to come out with the manifesto in every elections. The predicament is much more compounded due to the fact that Yeddyurappa who was first to release his party’s manifesto has snatched away all the programmes of the BJP government and declared as that of his and not that of the party.
Schemes such as Bhagyalakshmi (providing bond of Rs 38,000 to every girl child born), free bicycles to boys and girls who join high school, etc, have been patented by Yeddyurappa. Thus the BJP is finding it difficult to tell the people that all those schemes are that of the party and Yeddyurappa merely announced it as he was the party’s chief ministerial candidate in 2008 Assembly elections when the party won 110 seats.
But Yeddyurappa, a shrewd politician with his hands always on people’s pulse went by the saying, “early bird catches the fly” and has managed to make an impression in the psyche of the people. The BJP has been sheepish in maintaining that it was the party programme and not that of the individual. That the present incumbent chief minister, Jagadish Shettar is neither a vote getter nor a crowd puller, and hence not a mass leader, has been proved beyond doubt, not only in the defeat of the BJP in the urban local bodies elections but also because the BJP could not get comfortable majority in his own home-town of Hubli city Corporation.
How much BJP is missing Yeddyurappa could be gauged by the statements of two of its top leaders. While Rajnath Singh, party national president, said that Yeddyurpapa could have become the chief minister once again, had he exercised patience, party national vice president Uma Bharati said, “I would like to have Yeddyurappa back in the BJP in the interest of the country.”
Congress on its part is riding high and its leaders are on cloud nine. Not without reason. Their calculation is that the party will win hands down with the vertical split in the ruling BJP. The leaders are hoping that the 14-year-old history—(1999 assembly elections)—where the Congress romped home to victory in the aftermath of the split in Janata Dal would repeat.
There is nothing wrong in their hope per se, but there is a major difference between 1999 and 2013. In 1999 elections, the Congress high command had projected S.M.Krishna as its chief ministerial candidate but in this election nobody has been projected as its chief ministerial candidate. People do not vote for uncertainty, this simple logic ought to have gone down the mind of the Congress leadership. At the same time, the Congress in Karnataka was more homogenous, united and monolithic in 1999 which it is not in 2013. Presently, the Congress in Karnataka has given the picture of being a “condominium” each one owning a tenement under one roof which hardly enthuse the cadre and infuses confidence among the people. Of late, going by the reports from various districts, Congress leadership is gripped by “Brutus Syndrome”—backstabbing of each other.
Yet, it looks like that the Congress could emerge as the single largest party, if not absolute majority, thanks more to Yeddyurappa whose eating away of the BJP helped Congress win majority of the urban local bodies seats in February this year. In that way, the Congress with its social and geographical reach & spread being much wider and deeper than any political party would be the major beneficiary of the negative vote that would work against the BJP.
EC’s multi-dimensional efforts to persuade voters to exercise their franchise in Bengaluru
“I play fearlessly; you also vote fearlessly” says Saina Nehwal, India’s ace badminton player in one of the hoardings that dot various vantage points of Bengaluru. “Do not regret tomorrow by not voting today,” says Kannada’s tinsel world hero Ramesh, in another flex that are tied in every nook and cranny of India’s silicon city. The black and white poster pasted behind BMTC buses has the photograph of former President Dr APJ Kalam appealing to the people to cast their vote in the May 5 elections to the state Assembly.
These are part of an exhaustive, elaborate and meticulous campaign being conducted by the Election Commission’s Joint Chief Electoral Officer, Karnataka to persuade and coax the voters to turn out in large number and exercise their franchise. Several hundred posters, banners, flex and hoardings have been dotting important junctions, public places, circles and street corners with photographs of celebraties from different walks of life asking the voters to “exercise their right” to vote.
What made the EC to take up this campaign is the alarming low voter turnout, especially in Bengaluru as compared to rural areas in the previous elections. While the average turnout in the country side is roughly around 70 to 75 per cent, it has been around 35 to 40 per cent in Bengaluru. In some urban areas of the city such as Sadashivanagar, Kumara Park, High Grounds, the percentage of turnout in some elections has been as low as 20 to 25 per cent.
EC’s campaign seems to have a desired effect on the mind of the people. Said Bhagya Reddy, an executive in a five-star hotel, “I happened to read the appeal of Dr Kalam in a poster pasted on the rear of BMTC buses. The first thing I did was to check with the corporation authorities whether my name and that of my husband are in the voters list or not. I collected the voter ID and I have decided to vote with conviction.”
The opinion of S N Jayanth, an employee of State Bank of India, was almost similar but with some difference. He said, “I am disgusted by the political parties and I had almost decided not to vote. But the EC’s campaign in the form of hoardings, banners, flex, etc, stirred my conscience and made me to reconsider my decision. I will go to the polling booth with pride that I am exercising my right. Otherwise, I will cease to have moral right to criticise the government.”
Enthused by this EC’s “Please Vote” Campaign, people seem to have decided to supplement the EC’s effort. Said Lakshmi M Rao, Principal of a Central School, “First I got the voters list checked whether my name is there or not. Then, I have started telling my friends, colleagues, relatives and neighbours to please vote. I tell them that our first duty on May 5 is to exercise our right, no matter to which party we vote. I think it is our duty to create awareness among ourselves.”
But most of to those this correspondent spoke expressed that they should have an option “not to vote” or to “reject the candidate” option. (SAHK)
The Congress has erred in selecting the candidates as the leadership has not been able to ward off the allegations by its own workers that “extraneous consideration” has been the hallmark of distributing tickets in about 50 to 60 constituencies. But the allegation has been trashed by the state leaders. Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) President Dr G.Parameshwar admitted that his party has faced the “problem of plenty” while the BJP has faced the “problem of empty.”
Former PrimeMinister H.D.Deve Gowda’s outfit JD (S) has been silently and meticulously going ahead in preparing for the elections for almost six months, with zeroing in on candidates in about 100 constiuencies, mostly in the Vokkaliga-dominated South Karnataka region. Gowda’s son, former chief minister H.D.Kumaraswamy has already toured about 120 assembly segments in order to drum up support for his party on the plank of development, secularism and social justice, with women, youth and minorities as the fulcrum of the developmental process.
Notwithstanding the claim made by Kumaraswamy that his party would get absolute majority so as to form the government on its own which of course seems to be next to impossible wily Gowda, however, on his part, has been burning midnight oil to force a hung assembly, in order to bargain for a commanding position, either with the BJP or Congress, depending upon the situation. He had no qualms in seeking the support of the then AICC president Sitaram Kesari in 1996 to become South India’s first Prime Minister. Similarly, he had no qualms in joining hands with the Congress to form a coalition government with Dharam Singh as chief minister in 2004. At the same time, he allowed his son Kumaraswamy to join hands with the BJP in 2006, thus shamelessly displaying his unscrupulousness. Gowda’s calculation is not only to share power in Karnataka but to see whether he can get some plum position and a crucial role for himself to play at the Centre. This subjective agenda will dictate him, whether to join hands with the BJP or Congress. Cleverly, JD (S) has ruled out any electoral alliance or seat sharing with the BJP in May 5 elections, in order to get Muslim votes.
In 2004 Assembly elections, JD (S) had won 58 seats, with a good number of Muslims voting Gowda’s party. However, the number came down from 58 in 2004 to 28 in 2008 following Kumaraswamy’s decision to join hands with the BJP in 2006 to form coalition government. But the JD (S) has dropped clear hints that it would not be averse to join hands with the BJP after the May 5 elections to form the government, a clear indication of its desperateness for power.
On his part, Yeddyurappa would be extremely happy if he wins more seats than the BJP and also keeps JD (S) away from power, even if it means Congress coming to power. A meticulous look at the choice of candidates in some of the constituencies indicates that “there is something more than what meets the eye” between Congress and KJP.
THE POLITICS OF RICE
Karnataka joined the bandwagon of states where voters are being wooed with rice at Re one per kg. Earlier Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh launched scheme—rice for the BPL families at subsidized rate. The manifestos of all the political parties are filled with rice freebies. The Congress and BJP have got into the rice war, promising the poor people with rice for Re one per kg. The BJP has promised to give 25 kg rice per month which was upped by the Congress, who came up with a promise of supplying 30 kg of rice per month for all BPL families.
In the past, Karnataka is not known for favouring regional outfits. The regional outfits launched by four former chief ministers the late D.Devaraj Urs (Kranti Ranga), the late Kengal Hanumanthaiah (Surajya Party), the late S.Bangarappa (Karnataka Congress Party) and the late Ramakrishna Hegde (Lok Shakti Party) did not take off at all, to put it in simple and mild terms.
By launching his own regional outfit, Karnataka Janata Party, Yeddyurappa has taken a calculated risk. His contention is that he is not a greater leader than those stalwarts, but the time was not ripe in 70s, 80s and 90s for regional outfits to come up. He argues that the national parties have lost clout, reach and spread among the people and the emerging vacuum needs to be filled up by regional parties.
It is a moot question whether he will be proved right and only time will answer. In the 2008 Assembly elections, BJP had polled 36 per cent of votes and had won 110 seats. It managed to form the government with the help of six independents, with the magic number to be 113 in the house of 224. The Congress had won 80 seats (35 per cent of votes) and JD had won 28 seats (21 per cent of votes) and independents six seats.
“A week is a long time in politics” is a famous statement of British Prime Minister Harold Wilson. If a week is a long time, then 260 weeks must be like an eternity. That is the distance in time all parties have travelled ever since the last Assembly election was held in May 2008. All parties have burn midnight oil as well as campaigned tirelessly in the hot sun. Who will travel for the next 260 weeks in the seat of power is to be watched.
By S A Hemantha Kumar from Bengaluru