By Kestur Vasuki
Karnataka is poised for very interesting general elections. Down the Vindhayas, Karnataka is very crucial for both the national parties, the Congress and the BJP. With 28 constituencies in the state, these parties are betting big and the scenario is already heating up with temperatures soaring across Karnataka.
Many top leaders of both the parties are queuing in to play the political games for a major and decisive strike. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, party chief Amit Shah and other leaders of the saffron party, and Congress Chief Rahul Gandhi and other leaders have started making many rounds of campaign in the state.
Karnataka is going to polls in two phases on April 18 and April 23 for the 28 constituencies. For the first time in Karnataka BJP is facing the Congress and JD(S) combined led by chief minister HD Kumaraswamy and Congress leader Siddaramaiah.
Even though the swearing in of Kumaraswamy was a smart move by the Congress to forge an alliance and become a platform of opposition unity or ghatbhnadan, the internal rebellion in both, Congress and the JD(S) might help BJP to de polarise the votes in its favour.
However, following the alignment of Akilesh Yadav and Mayawati, Karnataka has become important for the saffron party. An insider in the party has said the party is working out an inclusive strategy to counter both the Congress and the regional party JD(S) led by HD Devegowda.
Many predict that the alliance between JD(S) and the Congress might help consolidate some of the vote share in central and southern districts in the state for the Congress.
A look back at the political history since 2004 for Karnataka shows that it has been the BJP’s forte for the Lok Sabha. In the 2004 Lok Sabha polls, BJP won 17 out of the 28 seats and in 2009, it won 18 seats. And in 2014, the BJP won 17 seats while the Congress and JD(S) only managed to win in 9 and 2 constituencies respectively.
1999 was the last Lok Sabha election where Congress bagged 18 seats. After this, Karnataka witnessed a political change with the first BJP government in Karnataka led by Lingayat strongman BS Yeddyurappa.
With over 19 percent Lingayat population in the state, it makes them a dominant community along with Vokkaligas (Gowda). Together, they play a major role in state politics. The Ramakrishna Hegde era gave a new political dimension to the state and saw the emergence of new political order to take on the Congress.
Even though there is discontentment in the saffron party to accept Lingayat strongman BS Yeddyurappa, the reality at this juncture is that they can’t dump Yeddyurappa owing to Lingayat consolidation.
Even though Yeddyurappa is over 75, BJP will go to elections in his leadership surpassing the party rule of not giving tickets to leaders who have crossed 75. BJP party insiders predict that the defection of Congress leaders to BJP and the threat of operation lotus might help BJP to either retain the same number of seats or lose two to three seats.
Congress and JD(S) leaders confidently say that they might cross 15 seats in old Mysuru area and North Karnataka in Kalaburgi, Bagalkot, Ballari, Chikkodi, Raichur and Bidar constituencies.
If there is a triangular contest BJP leaders say with the Modi wave, they might win more seats. BJP is confident of consolidating its position in Mumbai Karnataka, Central Karnataka, Hyderabad Karnataka, Coastal Karnataka and urban areas to fight the JD(S) – Congress combined.
Karnataka is no exception to the politics of speculations. Congress party wants Rahul Gandhi to contest from Bidar in North Karnataka and BJP has floated Modi to contest from Bengaluru South, a constituency of the late BJP Leader, HN Ananth Kumar.
Both these nominations are speculations to counter each other. Neither will Modi contest from Karnataka, nor will Rahul from Bidar. This is the game political parties are playing, capitalising the wide reach of social media.
In the first list announced by the BJP, two Congress leaders in Karnataka who recently joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) figured in its list of candidates for 21 of 28 Lok Sabha seats in the state. Umesh Jadhav (Gulbarga) and A Manju (Hassan) will be contesting in the upcoming general elections in April.
The BJP in a smart move has given the controversial seat of the mining distcict of Bellary to Devendrappa without giving a chance to the Reddy brothers. B Sriramulu won the seat in 2014 general elections, but the party lost the seat to Congress' VS Ugrappa in the 2018 by-election.
Meanwhile, the coalition partners Congress and the JD(S) in Karnataka have announced a plethora of measures to take on BJP. Former prime minister and JD(S) chief HD Devegowda who was part of the ghatabandhan politics has vowed to reduce BJP to a single digit.
Devegowda who heads a family party JD(S) has decided to contest from Tumakuru instead of Hassan where his grandson Prjwal Revanna will be contesting this year.
There is discontentment in the rank and files of the party as Gowda has given the crucial Mandya seat to his other grandson Nikhil Kumaraswamy, son of Chief Minister Kumaraswamy. This might split vokkaliga votes in south Karnataka which include Mandya and Hassan.
Siddaramaiah who is a known detractor of Gowda, is understood to have given indirect support to many rebel candidates including Sumalatha Ambrish, a multi-lingual filmstar and wife of late actor Ambrish who was a minister in the Congress government.
BJP is also expected to support Sumalatha to defeat Nikhil, another film actor prop up by his chief minister father Kumaraswamy. Kumaraswamy is also a film distributor and financier who controls the Kannada film industry.
As a part of a pre-poll alliance, the Congress will contest 20 seats and the JD(S) eight. However, senior dalit leader and deputy chief minister G Parameshwara of the Congress is said to be upset with Gowda’s decision to contest from Tumkuru.
Meanwhile, Congress renewed its attack over the Caravan’s report on alleged bribes of Rupees 1800 Crores to the party high command by BS Yeddyurappa ahead of elections.
The state BJP chief hit back at the Congress saying that the Congress party and its leaders are 'bankrupt of ideas'. Responding to media reports that he paid bribes of Rs 1800 crore to the BJP's top brass, Yeddyurappa said the purported payments had been inquired into already and the documents had been found to be fake.
As part of its strategy, the BJP has poached powerful Congress leaders, a plot to bring down senior Congress and dalit leader Mallikarjun Kharge from Kalaburgi district weeks ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.
The BJP's candidate against him is Umesh Jadhav, who was the Congress MLA from Chincholi until last month. He had joined the BJP during 'Operation Kamala,' the exercise adopted by the saffron party to get MLAs to defect to shore up its tally in the Karnataka Assembly.
Another senior leader of the Congress and former minister, Dr AB Maalaka Raddi has also joined the BJP which gives impetus to the party in Hyderabad Karnataka.
Over the last few months, other ex-MLAs like Mallikayya Guttedar and Baburao Chinchansoor have also joined the BJP from Gulbarga.
Renowned south Indian multi-lingual actor and social activist Prakash Raj too filed his nomination as an independent candidate from Bangalore Central constituency. Prakash Raj who is opposing the right wing Hindutva politics has acted in Kannada, Telugu, Tamil Malayalam and Hindi movies.
He is fighting BJP’s outgoing MP PC Mohan and Congress yet to announce its candidate. He shot to political fame after he criticised the Modi government for rising right-wing extremism in the country.
In 2014 Lok Sabha polls BJP had 43 percent; Congress 40.8 and others shared 11 percent of the vote share. The churning has started with many lows and highs. Congress with its alliance with JDs hopes to garner more and BJP with Modi wave and Chowkidhar rant as a strategy wants to decimate Ghatbhandan.
Karnataka is going to witness stormy elections and also a litmus test for Modi and Rahul Gandhi. It also decides the fate of Yeddyurappa who is playing a crucial innings.
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