Poll battle gets momentum in Karnataka. Voting for the 224-member Assembly will be held in a single phase on May 5.
KARNATAKA Assembly polls, to be held on May 5 in single phase, are going to prove a litmus test for all political parties. It is a test for the BJP, which had come to power on the promise of being different. The question before the Congress is whether it is wooing voters simply on an anti-incumbency wave or if it has something positive to offer. That will define and decide its position. The Janata Dal (Secular), which was in a position of power in a bi-party combination, is pushed to the third position. It will have to ask itself if it can assert its position in the old strongholds and make new inroads.
This Assembly poll is also important as it will define the nature of political competition in the State. Karnataka has generally seen a bi-polar contest. Does the trend of bi-polarity get confirmed or does the State see a competitive multi-polarity? This election is likely to provide an answer. The small players would essentially be spoilers. The KJP has a limited agenda: To show the BJP that the party can do little without the former Chief Minister BS Yedyurappa. The BSR Congress too is limited to Bellary and its neighbouring regions and its formation is linked to the inability of its leaders to achieve their political ambitions within the BJP. They hope to be kingmakers. If trends are any indication that also seems a distant dream for the simple reason that if no party is able to get a majority on its own, the party closest to the mark is likely to garner support of Independents (who are likely to be elected in large numbers) rather than break bread with smaller parties.
The State is going to the polls a year ahead of the general elections. The trend is expected to continue in the Lok Sabha election also. For the Congress and the BJP, Karnataka is critical for adding the maximum numbers from the principal party to the UPA and NDA. Whoever wins in Karnataka, it would be a morale booster in the run-up to the Lok Sabha poll.
All the parties have declared their candidates. Naturally those who did not get the ticket have threatened to field as independents. As usual the number of rebels in the Congress are larger than other parties. The poll analysts say the Congress is in troubles as it was never before. Ambarish has been a Lok Sabha Member, a union minister and is now the chosen one for the Mandya Assembly seat. Rebel star Ambarish, as he is known in film circles, has been rebelling in real life though. He refused to file his nomination, angry that the Congress did not issue a ticket to his choice for the neighbouring Srirangapatna constituency. Ambarish got his way, but the revolt is a snub to the other prominent Vokkaliga leader of the Mandya region, SM Krishna. Senior party leaders were unable to contain simmering resentment at other places too. In Chikaballapur, angry party workers damaged the party office. In Bellary, an ex-MLA threatened that over 20 corporators would resign. In Shimoga, rebels are contesting as independents.
In Davangere and Bengaluru, there are protests against dynastic politics and the JDS is poaching unhappy Congressmen.
Ego clashes are a persistent problem with the Congress as the party has not been able to project a single leader as its face in Karnataka. Besides, while they have leaders from all communities, it has failed to appeal to the majority Vokkaliga and Lingayat communities with a united face.
The stakes are high for the Congress, the BJP, as well as regional stalwarts like HD Deve Gowda and his son HD Kumaraswamy and former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa. The father-son duo, strong in the central Karnataka, controls the Janata Dal (Secular) within their family and this is the fourth Assembly Election for the party. On the other hand Yedyurappa’s Karnataka Janata Party (KJP) – formed a few months ago – tests the electoral waters for the first time. Both of them are relying on two dominant castes in the state – Gowdas have their influence mainly among Vokkaligas, while Yedyurappa takes credit for swinging the Lingayat vote in favour of the BJP in 2008.
The last date for nominations was April 17. According to the information released by Chief Electoral office of the State, over 2,000 candidates filed their nomination. Cumulative figure is 2001 nominations, includes 641 nominations from independents. The last day for withdrawal is April 20.
There are a total of 4.18 crore voters in Karnataka and as many as 50,446 polling stations have been set up. While 36 constituencies are reserved for SCs, 15 are reserved for STs in the State. The tenure of the current 224-member Karnataka Assembly expires on June 3. The last Assembly polls in 2008 were held in three phases with the BJP winning 110 seats and the Congress 80. Congress is aiming high in Karnataka, but it is the first politically significant State to go to the polls after the elevation of Rahul Gandhi as Congress vice president. BS Yeddyurappa’s KJP had bagged 274 seats out of the nearly 5,000 in urban local body polls. It is seen as a major challenge for the BJP.