Karnataka: The shifting sands

Observers claim that the campaign by Sonia and Rahul for the state assembly elections will backfire on them when it comes to the Lok Sabha elections. Take a look at this: Rahul claims that the BJP has broken “a world record for corruption”. He was specifically pointing out at the iron ore mining scam which set back the state for about 40,000 odd crore of rupees. But if Rahul uses the same argument, the Coalgate scam which has singed the party very badly, the people of Karnataka see that the amount is even bigger, a staggering lakhs of crores of rupees!

The Vidhana Soudha in Karnataka capital Bangalore.

The Vidhana Soudha in Karnataka capital Bangalore.

Karnataka is the big prize for both the Congress party and the Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP, it seems, had almost written off the state, which most political observers saw as the party’s gateway to the south of the Vindhyas.

For the Congress, it is a “must get” situation, a morale booster, for the party ahead of the general elections due 2014, but which might come even earlier.

Various opinion polls have shown that the BJP is set to be kicked out while as a corollary, the Congress is shown as romping back to power in this colourful southern state, from where stalwarts like Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi — the former from Chikmagalur and the latter from Bellary — have contested and won in times of difficulty.

Initially, it seemed that the BJP had written off its chances of retaining power while the Congress party, inundated in scams and scandals at the centre, saw it as a chance to redeem their battered image.

It was also touted as a state that would bolster the images of their respective leaders, mainly Congress party vice-president Rahul Gandhi and on the other side, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

Rahul Gandhi has already started campaigning, followed by his mother and party supremo Sonia Gandhi. While top brass from the BJP like L K Advani, Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj have been campaigning, the BJP’s top contender for the prime minister’s post Modi, will address just one meeting today.

It was widely expected that the fight would be between Rahul and Modi. But with Modi going to address just one meeting, political analysts were divided over whether the BJP, and Modi, had already written off the prospects of the BJP retaining power in the state.

Rahul had to redeem his image: He had campaigned extensively in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, but the party had to face ignominious defeat. As critics gleefully point out, Modi’s outing also did not do the BJP any good, especially in Himachal Pradesh.

But things have changed ever since the Cauvery’s waters got finally distributed after the Supreme Court’s orders on the long-standing dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

The BJP is now fighting back, all guns blazing, and the Congress party seems to be faltering.

Observers claim that the campaign by Sonia and Rahul for the state assembly elections will backfire on them when it comes to the Lok Sabha elections.

Take a look at this: Rahul claims that the BJP has broken “a world record for corruption”. He was specifically pointing out at the iron ore mining scam which set back the state for about 40,000 odd crore of rupees. Rahul did not mention that his party’s former chief minister Dharam Singh and some of his party’s candidates in the present elections were also involved in the mining scam.

But if Rahul uses the same argument, the Coalgate scam which has singed the party very badly, the people of Karnataka see that the amount is even bigger, a staggering lakhs of crores of rupees!

The BJP uses this argument: All the scamsters, led by former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa, are no longer with the party.

In New Delhi, wholesale efforts going on to protect Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who held the mining portfolio when the coal allocations took place in suspicious manner.

The Congress party has also tried to protect the PM and Finance Minister P Chidambaram from getting hurt by the 2G scam, also in lakhs of crores.

Rahul and his mother would like us to believe that no development took place in the the five years of BJP rule in Karnataka. In fact, they claim that the BJP had taken the state backwards.

Sonia said that the state “had a glorious past and a brighter future” if the Congress party was voted back to power.

The BJP has listed all the developments during their regime, which got overshadowed by the shenanigans of Yeddyurappa, the one and only person who is responsible for damaging the BJP’s almost irretrievably.

For example, it touted the progress of the Bangalore metro project. Till 2008 it was just seven per cent and during the BJP it was 45 per cent done. The BJP also countered the Congress party’s charge that there was no job growth under the BJP rule by citing the World Startup report which said that 41 per cent of India’s startups are located in Bangalore.

The BJP also cited the Planning Commission’s report ending 2012 which showed that Karnataka recorded 5.11 per cent growth when compared with Andhra Pradesh at five per cent and Tamil Nadu at 4.56 per cent.

The state BJP also pointed out that during all the five years of its reign, the government presented revenue surplus budgets.

But leave all that apart. In the election campaigns, the BJP has been quick at ponting out that the Congress is a divided house with several contenders for the chief minister’s post.

Not only that, the Congress party has been riven by various factions over distribution of tickets.

This came to the fore on Saturday when a former Congress chief minister — who has been credited for all the progress that Karnataka had achieved — indicated that it would be difficult for the Congress party to come to power, despite various pre-poll surveys. He went on to dismiss the surveys by saying: “It is difficult to expect what the people’s verdict would be. Sometimes polls go wrong because people who are approached give misleading information”.

Krishna’s negative statements against his Congress party is sure to deliver a major blow, especially on a day when his party supremo Sonia Gandhi started her campaign in the state.

Her theme was that the BJP had “betrayed” the people of Karnataka. But Krishna was singing a different tune: The Congress party was the “betrayer”, though he did not use the word.

Of course, there was a swell of anger against the BJP due to Yeddyurappa’s cantenkorous ways. The BJP has tried to cash in on it by saying it was only Yeddyurappa and his minions who did all the bad things.

The party’s theme now is: “We have cleansed the party by getting rid of Yeddyurappa and other corrupt persons.”

The BJP has been trying hard to redeem its image and seems to be somewhat successful. But as luck has it, it is the Congress party that is seen as set to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

There is one thing that all political experts, analysts and observers agree upon: There is the anti-incumbency factor, but there is no “wave” in favour of the Congress party.

Where do we go in from here: A hung assembly? Wait and watch.

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