The May 5 polls to the State Assembly seem poised to witness a major battle between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress in most constituencies. However, if you look at the preparations for the elections, the Congress is still lacking in one key area: it is yet to bring in the right caste balance in the organisation.

It is known that the downfall of the Congress in Karnataka began after the Lingayats were sidelined — when the former Chief Minister Veerendra Patil was unceremoniously replaced by the late S. Bangarappa in 1990. The party returned to power in 1999 under the leadership of S.M. Krishna, a Vokkaliga; however, the Lingayat community’s feeling of alienation was made evident in the 2004 polls, when the Congress failed to get majority. The BJP shrewdly capitalised on this situation, by projecting Lingayat leader B.S. Yeddyurappa as its candidate for the Chief Minister’s post.

However, a disgruntled Mr. Yeddyurappa quit the party to form the Karnataka Janata Paksha. Even if the BJP seems unwilling to acknowledge it publicly, the party must be aware of the Lingayat strongman’s potential to damage its prospects. Perhaps in an attempt to tackle this situation, the BJP high command selected Pralhad Joshi to head its State unit, thereby giving its due to the Brahmin community; and the former Chief Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda, appointed national vice-president of the party to assuage the Vokkaligas. The decision to appoint Prabhakar Kore, MP and prominent Lingayat leader, as a member of the party’s national executive committee, seems to have given Mr. Yeddyurappa’s loyalists in the BJP a reason to stay.

The BJP is trying its best to ensure caste balance for the simple fact that caste politics has come to stay for all practical purposes, and has played a decisive role in elections. However, there are still a few gaps which the BJP is expected to fill, to provide justifiable representation to Muslim minorities and Dalits.

In sharp contrast to the BJP’s planning and approach, the Congress leaders in the State and at the Centre have not taken any concrete measures to bridge the gaps and strike a caste balance: “our party has not learnt lessons from its previous defeats, as it has taken Muslims and Dalits for granted,” observed a senior Congress leader and KPCC member. Some party leaders have become over ambitious, seeking the Chief Minister’s post, despite remaining lethargic towards party activities. Leaders tend to believe that the evils of the BJP governance will result in anti-incumbency factor. In this situation, they feel that the first natural beneficiary would be the Congress; this is a negative approach to the elections, the leader said.

“If anti-incumbency is a factor, then the people in the State have stronger reasons to oppose the Congress, keeping in mind the series of scams, inflation, uncontrolled price rise and recessionary trends under the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre,” he said.

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