The battle for Karnataka heats up

The outcome of the Gujarat elections has made the two major political parties – Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – in Karnataka sit up and chalk out strategies to reach out to voters across the state. Y Maheswar Reddy analyses the processes being adopted by the Political parties and possible outcomes in the current scenario.

According to political analysts, the Gujarat election results have clearly showcased the weaknesses and strengths of Congress and BJP in garnering votes. While the Congress ruled the roost in rural areas, the BJP strengthened its base in urban areas in Gujarat.

If the results of 2013 Karnataka Assembly elections are any indication, the scenario in 2018 elections is set to be on par with Gujarat election results. In 2013, the BJP remained strong in urban areas in Karnataka while the Congress maintained its hold on rural areas.

According to Election Commission data, there are around 70 urban and 154 rural assembly constituencies in Karnataka. Almost half the urban constituencies (28) are in Bengaluru city and the rest are spread across seven city corporations — 43 city municipal councils, 65 town municipal councils and 92 town panchayats. Political analysts opine that unless Congress makes inroads into BJP’s vote bank in urban areas, it would be difficult for the Congress to form government on its own in 2018.

With an eye on urban voters, Congress has announced a slew of measures and freebees. For instance, the Siddaramaiah government has sanctioned Rs 1,000 crore to take up white topping on 16,000 km arterial and sub-arterial roads in Bengaluru. To coincide with late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s birth centenary, the state government has opened Indira Canteens - close to 198, one in each ward - in the city to provide breakfast for Rs 5 and lunch or dinner for Rs 10 to the less privileged. On an average, three lakh people use this facility which is expected to be extended to districts and taluks in the state in the election year.

It has also decided to offer free bus passes for lakhs of garment workers of various garment factories most of which are situated in Bommanahalli Assembly constituency on the outskirts of the city. It is represented by BJP MLA M Satish Reddy. The objective is to make a dent into BJP’s vote bank in the next Assembly elections. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has been trying to implement one-lakh houses project for lower and middle-class families in Bengaluru.

The Congress leaders, under the guidance of All-India Congress Committee General Secretary KC Venugopal, have not only strengthened booth-level committees but also begun door-to-door campaigns. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has already undertaken a tour of 124 Assembly constituencies represented by Congress legislators to explain the welfare schemes implemented by his government. On the other hand, Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president Dr G. Parameshwara, along with other prominent Congress leaders, has commenced tour of 100 Assembly constituencies represented by the BJP and the Janata Dal (S) legislators.

Many opine that Congress has many leaders apart from resources to sail through in the next Assembly elections. They recall how the Congress candidates won two by-polls – Nanjangud and Gundlupet – earlier this year despite all out efforts made by state BJP leaders to wrest them from the ruling Congress. Nanjangud was represented by former minister V Srinivasa Prasad who quit Congress for dropping him from the Cabinet and contested on a BJP ticket while Congress candidate Gita Mahadeva Prasad retained the seat for the party. The by-election for Gundlupet was necessitated due to the death of her husband Mahadeva Prasad who was a minister in the Siddaramaiah Cabinet.

On the other hand, BJP state president B.S. Yeddyurappa has also taken up a 75-day Parivarthana Yatra that was launched by BJP national president Amit Shah on November 2 in Bengaluru. It may be recalled the empty chairs and poor turnout at the rally made Shah fume at state BJP leaders. There was nothing to crow on the success of one of the Parivarthana Yatra meetings addressed by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on December 17 in Bengaluru. However, they have succeeded in making Parivarthana Yatra meeting, addressed by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath at BGS Ground, Vijayanagar in Bengaluru on January 7, a huge success. Yogi Adityanath had also addressed Parivarthana Yatra meeting at Hubballi on December 21.

The BJP leaders have been trying their best to get mileage on Mahadayi river water issue by arranging a meeting with Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar on December 20 in New Delhi. However, their strategy went haywire when Goa Minister for Water Resources and also Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar issued different statements on the issue.

The BJP leaders have also been trying their best to capitalize on the killings of many RSS activists across the state.

One cannot ignore the presence of Janata Dal (Secular) in the state. Though seven of its legislators revolted against the leadership and are set to join Congress soon, the JD(S) is set to play a key role in the event of a hung Assembly. It has been sharing power with Congress in Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) despite BJP emerging single largest party in the 198-member civic body.

With an eye on North Karnataka voters that have eluded the party, JD(S) state president H.D. Kumaraswamy has decided to make Hubballi his second home. It was during his tenure, that the Karnataka Government began holding the winter session of the legislature in Belgavi. He played a key role in construction of the Suvarana Soudha in Belagavi at a cost of more than Rs 400 crore.

However, JD(S) is not immune to internal squabbles and infighting among its leaders. With more and more members from the family opting to jump into the electoral fray, it has become a headache for party supremo and former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda to keep the flock together.

Kumaraswamy is facing tough challenge from his nephew Prajwal Revanna who came out with a startling revelation on the alleged suitcase culture that existed in the party. Now, Prajwal has been appointed as general secretary of the party. In fact, Deve Gowda has publicly acknowledged Revanna’s prowess as a young leader and has even anointed him as his successor in the party.

The ongoing agitation by Lingayats seeking a separate religion tag is also expected to become a boiling point for all the political parties. While Congress supported the demand, it has not taken the issue to its logical end, BJP has remained mum on the issue fearing backlash from the community which has been its major vote bank all these years.

Other political parties such as Aam Admi Party (AAP), Janata Dal (United), Sarvodaya Karnataka Party, Vatal Paksha, and left parties are expected to remain on paper and not pose any threat to the major political parties in the state.

Congress seems to be in the lead to retain power in the state given the ground realities. However, it remains to be seen if other parties, including the BJP, will succeed in encashing the anti-incumbency factor that Congress is likely to face in the forthcoming Assembly elections.


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