Against all odds, voters may be nudged toward India’s Grand Old Party by the mess in the BJP government
When out of power, Congress becomes adrift and loses its way, giving many a false impression that the party is too weak to bounce back in the next polls. Karnataka is no different. Observers are wondering if, just as in other states, the There-Is-No-Alternative Factor will kick in here too and bring the party back in the saddle. The mess that the Bharatiya Janata Party found itself in during its tenure shows that other parties are still to learn the art of governance – in Karnataka. And, if the past is anything to go by, the Congress party may not hesitate to cobble together a government if it is within striking distance of a majority, as it did in 2004 with the help of the Janata Dal (Secular).
The party, which has been in the opposition for about a decade, barring a 20-month period in 2004, when N. Dharam Singh led a coalition government, has made it clear its resolve to occupy the Vidhana Soudha once again. Unlike the two previous elections, this time around, the overriding sentiment among people seems to be in favour of the Congress, given the corruption and infighting within the BJP. After some grumbling and dissension on the issue of candidate selection, the situation appears to have settled down. There were also claims from several leaders for the post of Chief Minister, but everyone in Congress and outside knows that it is the High Command that takes this decision.
As it stands, there are at least three contenders for the post — Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Siddaramaiah, the State party chief G. Parameshwara, and Union Minister for Labour and Employment Mallikarjun Kharge.
Congress workers complained of pervasive nepotism in ticket distribution. In nearly 30 seats, the party could not finalise its candidate until the very end. Mr. Parameshwara and Mr. Siddaramaiah, who assisted the screening and selection committees, admit there are rebels in the fray in many constituencies who could play spoilsport. But such a situation is not new, and only natural in India’s Grand Old Party, they argue.
Senior leaders such as former External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and actor-turned-politician M.H. Ambareesh, both belonging to the Old Mysore belt dominated by the Vokkaliga community, are at loggerheads in Mandya district. It should be no surprise if the party loses a few seats as a result. They did not even exchange pleasantries in the presence of Vice President Rahul Gandhi during his visit to Mandya earlier this week.
The party may have backed the wrong horse in opting for former Union minister C.M. Ibrahim replacing MLA B.K. Sangameshwar in Bhadravathi, ignoring A. Krishnappa in K.R. Pura, H.M. Revanna in Hebbal and U.B. Venkatesh in Jayanagar. While Mr. Sangameshwar is a rebel in Bhadravati, Mr. Krishnappa is contesting as a JD(S) candidate in Hiriyur, where the Congress has fielded a defector — former minister D. Sudhakar, who is under CBI scanner.
Buckling under pressure from another senior leader Shamanur Shivashankarappa, the party accommodated him in Davanagere North, a predominantly Muslim majority segment and ensured Davanagere South to his son S.S. Mallikarjun. The Congress tried to curry favour with Muslim voters by offering three more seats to their community.
Against all odds, the chances for Congress in Karnataka seem bright. This can be attributed more to the anti-incumbency mood, thanks to the blunders of the ruling party, rather than any pro-active role played by Congress as the principal Opposition.
Even as elections are two days away, political parties are still releasing manifestos in Karnataka. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Thursday released a separate manifesto for Bangalore city, while Janata Dal (Secular) released a separate manifesto for the Christian community on Tuesday. The BJP has promised to relax nightlife hours in Bangalore, besides extending the closing time of eateries from the present 11.30 p.m. to 1.00 a.m., among other things. JD(S)’s manifesto for Christians has promised setting up of a welfare board for Christians, protection for churches and facilitating visits to Jerusalem and Rome.