No red carpet for Congress in Karnataka despite Yeddy-BJP war

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Karnataka - Elections“BS Yeddyurappa has prepared a hit list and my name is on it,” says Suresh Kumar, Karnataka’s law and urban development minister with a smile. He is right. The temperamental Yeddyurappa isn’t one to forget his political enemies and has fielded close confidant and former Karnataka Energy minister Shobha Karandlaje against Suresh Kumar in Bangalore’s Rajajinagar assembly constituency. Suresh Kumar, a veteran RSS hand and a three-time MLA, will be facing a tough contest this time, though like all politicians during the election campaign, he is loathe to admit there is even a contest.

But scratch the surface and the concerns within the state BJP come to the fore. Yeddyurappa‘s former colleagues admit his Karnataka Janatha Paksha (KJP) will take away between three to five percent of the vote in many constituencies. While that will not be enough to make Yeddyurappa a winner, by splitting the core BJP and Lingayat caste vote, he will ensure BJP bites the dust. Privately, all top leaders of the ruling party say it will be a miracle if it crosses 60 seats in the 224-member Karnataka assembly. The BJP won 110 seats in 2008.

In fact, the BJP even knows the seats where its former chief minister is going to hurt them. Its leaders mention 38 constituencies where the KJP factor will cost the BJP the seat.

No surprise then that there is a spring in the Congress step, almost bordering on overconfidence. There are familiar scenes of protests staged at the Karnataka Pradesh Congress office in Bangalore by supporters of Congressmen who have been denied a ticket. A cocky Congress leadership interprets them as an indication that the party is seen as the winning horse in Karnataka.

But though it would be tempting to interpret the BJP-Yeddyurappa divorce as Advantage Congress, it may be prudent to proceed with caution. The road to Vidhana Soudha may still be littered by the proverbial Bangalore pothole for the Congress. And the party would do well to read the danger signs.

• While there is strong anti-incumbency against the BJP for giving a rule marked by political instability, infighting, corruption and governance deficit, there is no pro-Congress wave in Karnataka.

• The Congress party’s crab culture means almost every Congress leader is worried that another faction in his own organisation could play party pooper.

• Of the 80 Congress MLAs who were elected in 2008, at least 20 of them are facing serious anti-incumbency and could lose. Which means the party has to win 53 new seats to cross the half-way mark this time.

• The battle for kaun banega mukhyamantri (who will be the chief minister) if the Congress comes to power in Karnataka, will be fierce. At the moment, no one is being projected as the chief ministerial candidate, leaving all aspirants to work on getting as many of their supporters elected.

While most opinion polls conducted in March painted a rosy picture for the Congress, predicting it will form the government on its own, the mood is a bit circumspect in April. Senior leaders like Dharam Singh, Mallikarjun Kharge, KH Muniyappa and CK Jaffer Sharief are glum that they are being made to sweat it out to get tickets for their gen-next (read sons, daughters, grandsons etc). Though disgruntlement during ticket distribution is nothing new in the Congress, the worry this time is that in a multi-cornered contest, the fight could be close and a few hundred votes here and there could make all the difference.

If the results of the civic polls in different towns of Karnataka in March are any indication, the money is on the Congress to emerge as the single largest party and form the next government. The worst case scenario is that it may fall a few seats short and that is where Yeddyurappa is willing to prove that a friend in need is a friend indeed. His Man Friday, Dhananjay Kumar, the KJP working president, says the Congress is not an untouchable and the KJP is willing to partner with it. But then many Congressmen also say that with friends like Yeddyurappa, they won’t need enemies and would much rather prefer to do business with Independent MLAs.

For Yeddyurappa, a Congress government dependent on him for survival is the best case scenario to be politically relevant in Karnataka. Otherwise, the chances of his becoming Karnataka’s Kalyan Singh or Keshubhai Patel are very high.

Fighting the election with its back to the wall, the BJP is going all out to tell the people that a vote for the Congress is a vote to bring back Yeddyurappa by proxy. Referring to the KJP symbol, the coconut, BJP leaders claim the coconut is firmly in the Congress hand, hinting at a KJP-Congress secret deal in select constituencies. The BJP cadre has been told to propagate that Yeddyurappa would want to help the Congress to come to power, in return for CBI-related favours. For the Congress, a victory in Karnataka is critical since the dice is not loaded in its favour in the next four state assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi later this year.(FP)

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