Thanks to anti-incumbency wave Congress may emerge single largest party

Campaigning for the elections to the 14th Legislative Assembly of Karnataka came to an end on Friday and as the electorate head to the polling booths on Sunday there are no visible signs of their party preference, giving room to a view that the State is headed for another round of fractured mandate similar to the kind witnessed for the first time in the 2004, followed by a similar result in 2008.

Given the manner in which the Bharatiya Janata Party ruled the State over the past five years, marred by allegations of misrule and corruption, leave alone the deep divisions within the party, it is quite certain that anti-incumbency will creep into the voting pattern which will obliquely enable the Congress to get to the seat of power.

Although the BJP claims that the party stands cleansed of all those who brought it disrepute, it is quite certain that the Congress will emerge the single largest party at the hustings and Governor H.R. Bhardwaj is likely to play an important role in the installation of the next government.

The Congress, after going through a serious round of hiccups over the past fortnight, largely arising out of the shoddy manner in which candidates were selected for some constituencies and the resultant rebellion, is stated to have emerged successful in settling the differences in most constituencies and this in turn is expected to help it to garner more seats although there is no evidence that the party will be able to sweep the elections and obtain a majority of its own. In the 225-member Assembly, a party has to win at least 113 seats to obtain a simple majority.

What has been evident during the run-up to the elections is that regional parties — the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Karnataka Janata Party of the former Chief Minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa — will emerge as kingmakers (although they claim that they will be kings) should either the Congress or the BJP fail to obtain even a simple majority. Consequently, the post-poll scenario is expected to bring into play another round of fresh alliances similar to the 20-20 month (of rule) arrangement between the Congress and the JD (S) in 2004, followed by a similar understanding between the JD (S) and the BJP in 2007, although both agreements were observed in the breach, resulting in the last of the Assembly elections being advanced by a year.

The Congress, which continuously ruled the State till 1983 (from 1952) is expected to get back to the seat of power after nearly a decade and consequently there are many leaders in the race for the post of chief minister. It is this factor that has prompted the party high command to desist from announcing the chief ministerial candidate unlike the way it announced the name of S.M. Krishna during the run-up to the 1999 election or that of D. Devaraj Urs in 1978.

Among the front-runners are Union Ministers M. Mallikarjun Kharge and M. Veerappa Moily, although the latter was the Chief Minister between 1992 and 1994 after he succeeded S. Bangarappa. Others are KPCC president G. Parameshwara and Leader of the Opposition in the outgoing Assembly, Siddaramaiah who has been in the Congress for about seven years having defected from the JD(S). The BJP has announced that Jagadish Shettar is its chief ministerial candidate while the JD(S) has reserved that post for H.D. Kumaraswamy.

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