Stakes high for Congress, BJP in Karnataka Lok Sabha battle : The Tribune India

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Stakes high for Congress, BJP in Karnataka Lok Sabha battle

CM Siddaramaiah has expressed confidence that the Congress will win at least 20 seats in the state. A bad show may put him on the back foot.

Stakes high for Congress, BJP in Karnataka Lok Sabha battle

POWER PLAY: Siddaramaiah (left) and DK Shivakumar had led the Congress to a superb victory over the BJP in the Karnataka Assembly elections last year. PTI



BS Arun

Senior Journalist

THE outcome of the Lok Sabha elections in Karnataka, which will go to the polls in two phases (April 26 and May 7), may impact the future of three leading politicians of the state. They are not among the contestants at the hustings. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, Deputy CM and state Congress president DK Shivakumar and state BJP chief BY Vijayendra are leaving no stone unturned to achieve the best possible result for their parties, well aware of the implications of an under-par or bad performance.

Less than a year ago, Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar had helmed the Congress to a superb victory over the BJP, which had used all its might to retain power in the southern state. But the commanding win over the arch-rival in the Assembly elections is no guarantee of a repeat in the Lok Sabha polls. The Congress cannot take any chances as the BJP handsomely won the 2014 and 2019 battles in the state. The saffron party clinched 17 seats as against nine of the Congress (out of 28) in 2014, and bettered its tally in 2019 with 25 seats, with the Congress winning just one.

While Siddaramaiah has expressed confidence that his party will win at least 20 seats this time, a bad show may put him on the back foot, encouraging the BJP to engineer defections and make Congress rebels contest byelections.

But that scenario looks far-fetched as of now mainly because of the huge gap between the Congress and BJP in the 224-member House. While a good show will strengthen Siddaramaiah’s claim to continue as CM for the next four years, a lacklustre performance will prompt his detractors to exert pressure on him to vacate his seat after two-and-a-half years at the helm, as per a supposed agreement between him and Shivakumar.

For Shivakumar, a bad show will be seen as a reflection on his ability as a resourceful leader and an organiser and may impact his claim to Siddaramaiah’s chair late next year. As regards Vijayendra, who took over as the state BJP chief six months ago, even one seat less than the Congress may give enough ammunition to his detractors in the party — and there are many — to seek his removal. Vijayendra, an MLA and son of party veteran BS Yediyurappa, encountered strong opposition from some senior leaders when he was appointed party chief.

The Janata Dal (Secular)’s unquestioned leader HD Kumaraswamy is another key player. A poor show may not matter much to the former CM, though it can lead to calls to revitalise the party. Battered and bruised in last year’s Assembly elections, the party is contesting three seats. Kumaraswamy, the son of former PM HD Deve Gowda, is contesting from Mandya, the heart of the Vokkaliga belt.

The JD(S) has a tie-up with the BJP this time, unlike in 2019, when it went with the Congress. It was a pathetic show by both then as they ended up with just one seat each while handing a resounding victory to the BJP. The main reason for the drubbing was that the voter base and political turf were nearly the same for both the Congress and the JD(S) — Vokkaligas and south Karnataka, respectively. It must, however, be said that the Congress has a wider support base — both in terms of caste combination and regions of Karnataka. In 2019, there was acrimony over the alliance among both the leaders and workers of both parties. In contrast, the JD(S) and the BJP have ensured smooth coordination at the leaders’ level so far. However, whether this can be achieved at the ground level remains to be seen.

If there is one distinct feature of this Lok Sabha election compared to the previous one in the state, it is the rebellion that has troubled the major parties, especially the BJP. Differences erupted within the saffron party several weeks before the polls were announced and grew manifold after the announcement of candidates. The party encountered serious problems in 16 of the 28 seats — Belagavi, Bidar, Raichur, Koppal, Dharwad, Uttara Kannada, Davanagere, Shivamogga, Chitradurga, Tumakuru, Chikkaballapur, Chamarajanagar, Kalaburagi, Udupi-Chikmagalur, Dakshina Kannada and Mysuru. Yediyurappa, seen as the man behind the selection of candidates, went to several of these areas to pacify the rebels. As many of them were unrelenting, BJP leader Amit Shah, during his visit to Bengaluru last week, spoke to them and mollified them. Still, the possibility of sabotage harming the party in some of the seats cannot be ruled out. Differences came out in some seats as rebel leaders stayed away from the candidates’ filing of nominations. In Shivamogga, the party has given up on former minister KS Eshwarappa, a veteran backward-class leader who has raised the banner of revolt and decided to contest against BY Raghavendra, Yediyurappa’s son. Eshwarappa rebelled after his son was denied the Haveri ticket in favour of former CM Basavaraj Bommai.

If the rebellion is a headache for the BJP, the Congress is facing problems in finalising candidates. The leadership wanted to field 10 ministers, but all of them, well-entrenched in state politics, refused. Some of them demanded the ticket for their kin. The party relented and agreed to their demand. Consequently, on eight seats, the party has fielded the son/daughter/brother of ministers. It faced a huge problem in finding a candidate for the Kolar reserved seat, which witnessed a factional fight — a continuation of what the constituency has been seeing for about two decades. Here, KH Muniyappa — a former Central minister, a seven-time MP from Kolar and now a minister in the state — wanted the ticket for his son-in-law. The anti-Muniyappa faction opposed this. Finally, the choice fell on a neutral candidate, but the minister (whose daughter is also an MLA) is still angry over what has transpired. In the neighbouring Chikkaballapur, too, the party has faced factional discord after it denied the ticket to former Central minister and ex-CM Veerappa Moily. 

#BJP #Congress #Karnataka #Lok Sabha #Siddaramaiah


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