Rahul Gandhi is wrong, it’s not easy for Cong in Karnataka

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Congress“The BJP will lose here. We can hear it in Delhi,” said Rahul Gandhi at his election meeting in Sindhanoor in Raichur district of Karnataka on Tuesday. If he travelled enough through Karnataka, he would also get to hear the rumblings within his Congress camp that threaten to turn a winning march into a less than a simple majority status.

On the face of it, the Congress is poised to make the most of the disappointment with the way BJP governed Karnataka in the last five years. Most opinion polls have predicted a Congress victory in the state that in 2008 was celebrated as BJP’s gateway to the south. But speak to Congress leaders privately and the concern that the match could go down to the wire, comes tumbling out. And there are several aspects of this election that the party seems to be blundering on.

The absence of a CM candidate : In the past, whoever was deemed to have had the best chance of getting the top job – be it S M Krishna in 1999 or B S Yeddyurappa in 2008 for the BJP – would walk that extra mile, politically and financially, to ensure the party gets a majority. This time, different groups are only looking to ensure their candidates win and no one is looking at the pan-Karnataka picture for the Congress. The fact that the Congress shied away from projecting a CM candidate is a pointer to how divided the party is. The frontrunners for the post are Leader of the Opposition and former deputy chief minister Siddaramaiah and PCC chief G Parameshwar. However, the emergence of a dark horse – like Vijay Bahuguna in Uttarakhand – if the Congress gets to form the government can never be ruled out.

The party’s penchant to play communal politics in Dakshina Kannada, that has been a BJP stronghold for many years : Just like in 2008, the Congress has fielded all minority candidates from all the three seats in Mangalore city, an indication of its resolve to polarise the vote on communal lines. While its attempt is to corner the entire minority vote – Mangalore city has a 22 per cent Muslim and 16 per cent Christian population – the flip side is that in this highly communal region, it could also lose many a Hindu vote to the BJP. And the BJP MLAs in Mangalore are seen to have been pro-development, a factor that also will work in their favour.

Strong anti-incumbency: There is a strong sentiment of anti-incumbency against at least one-fourth of the sitting 80 Congress MLAs. In such cases, simply raising an anti-BJP pitch is unlikely to work as voters are looking closely at the report card of the Congress legislators too.

Missing pro-Congress wave: The personal credibility of some of the BJP MLAs is high even though the party’s image has taken a beating. And the absence of a pro-Congress wave could hurt the party’s chances.

The mining factor: In Bellary, it has become a case of pot calling the kettle black. The Congress kept attacking the Reddy brothers for looting Bellary’s mineral wealth and using the ill-gotten money to control the BJP government. But this election has not seen them practise what they preached. They too have handed out tickets to tainted cash-rich mine owners, who have been pulled up by the Supreme Court for violating the mining guidelines with impunity. That is an indication that irrespective of who comes to power, the political control in Bellary will continue to be in the hands of the rich and the powerful. And yes, the law-breakers too.

Banking on Yeddyurappa: The Congress is banking heavily on Yeddyurappa to split the original BJP vote in most constituencies. The former chief minister will undoubtedly do that and could prove beneficial to the Congress in close contests. But it will be seen as a victory by default.

Family ties: In the run-up to the distribution of tickets, senior Congress leaders spent more time advertising their kith and kin for selection as candidates. Almost all the Congress heavyweights – from Mallikarjun Kharge to Dharam Singh to Jaffer Sharief – were guilty of not seeing beyond their DNA when it came to supporting candidates.

Rebel candidates: The presence of rebel candidates in elections is nothing new to the Congress but the party would do well to win them over, instead of waiting for a situation where they harm the official party candidate’s chances.

The minority factor: It is not quite certain which way the 12 percent Muslims in Karnataka will vote. In 2008, they voted en masse for the Congress because they were unhappy with the Janata Dal (Secular) for having formed a coalition government in 2006. But this time, the JD(S) is likely to eat into the Muslim vote even though there are doubts if HD Kumaraswamy may once again flirt with the BJP, should there be a fractured mandate in Karnataka.

The Karnataka elections are not merely about the 224 MLAs who will enter the Vidhan Soudha. It will have huge implications for the Congress’ morale across India, as a victory over the BJP will help lift its sagging spirits. The results on 8 May will in effect, kickstart the run-up to the general election to be held exactly a year from now.

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