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Can Modi save Karnataka for BJP?

Modi has fired the imagination of the middle classes and urban voters, not only in Gujarat, but across a wide swathe of the nation. Karnataka is no exception to the Modi mania. On the streets and in cafes and offices across the state, people are discussing Modi and his brand of development politics. On social media too, a majority of urban and middle-class Kannadigas have seemingly been enamoured by Modi.

Wanted: Narendra Modi by Karnataka BJP!

Wanted: Narendra Modi by Karnataka BJP!

There is a growing clamour in the Bharatiya Janata Party in Karnataka to bring Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to campaign for the crucial May 5 assembly elections. The first demand came from Minister C T Ravi when he was visiting coastal Karnataka ahead of the urban local bodies elections, which saw BJP bastions of Mangalore and Udupi falling to the main opposition Congress party.

But can Modi repeat his Gujarat magic and save the BJP in Karnataka?

Interestingly, while national TV channels are keen to see a Modi vs Rahul presidential type of debate ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, Karnataka will see a Modi vs Rahul battle as the local unit of the Congress party is also clamouring for their crown prince to campaign for the assembly elections.  (Read earlier story here.)

Both the leaders have a not so enviable record in the previous outings.

In Himachal Pradesh, Modi campaigned in a few areas, but failed to make a mark due to infighting and the party lost the northern state to the Congress.

As far as Rahul is concerned, even his supporters acknowledge he was a complete disaster in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

But it is advantage Rahul now since various surveys have shown that the Congress party is set to make a comeback. Many national Congress party leaders also feel that Karnataka may help in Rahul’s image make-over as a vote-catcher and will naturally give him a huge moral boost.

The BJP’s  suffered a setback due to various corruption allegations and infighting, but mainly to the bull-headed actions of former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa.

The surveys showed that the Congress is gaining only at the BJP’s expense. The biggest ever opinion that no psephologist can match is the results of the urban local bodies.

It seemed the people wanted to punish the BJP for all its acts of omission and ‘commission’.

But there is no reason for the Congress to claim that it can fire the imagination of the people of the state. The party’s record is also not very inspiring.

The Congress itself is a divided house with a lot of contenders for the chief minister’s post. No one as yet knows who would be candidate for the chief minister’s position.

The BJP is now trying to present itself as a “united house”. Indeed, at the “Vijayasankalpa Samavesha” rally at Mysore earlier today, state leaders including Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar, the newly-appointed state BJP chief Pralhad Joshi, former chief minister Sadananda Gowda, Deputy Chief Minister K S Eshwarappa and national general secretary Ananth Kumar tried to present a united face before the people.

The party also is making all-out efforts to wipe its image clean of all corruption taints. Only the other day, Eshwarappa said that the party had become “free and pure” after the exit of Yeddyurappa.

Eshwarappa said the party’s well-wishers and supporters were earlier “pained on two fronts”:  Confusion over state leadership and some leaders facing corruption charges.

“Now, there is a unity in the leadership. There is no confusion,” he averred. “The workers and well-wishers are happy that those facing CBI cases and had served a prison term are not there. The party has become free and pure.”

But there are a couple of MLAs in the party who are still facing serious charges. Eshwarappa hinted that they would be denied party tickets.

The party has already compiled a list of 150 constituencies where BJP candidates have no danger from party rebels. They are also working hard on constituencies taking into factor the possible damage that could be caused by Yeddyurappa’s Karnataka Janata Paksha and B Sriramulu’s BSR Congress Party.

The party seems to have recovered some ground, but barely. Surveys which showed the BJP getting only about 50-58 seats in December 2012 gave them about 72 seats by February 2013.

But at the back of their minds they know they face an uphill task. There are pockets of resistance in the party, thanks mainly to Yeddyurappa’s policy of caste-based politics which alienated many senior partymen who were from the original RSS fold. They have to won over and brought back into action.

Another step is to show to the electorate that the BJP is united. Today’s Mysore rally seemed to be an exercise towards that end.

But the party needs a massive booster dose if it has to retain power. It has to do a lot to woo back the disenchanted urban and middle class voters, especially in their strongholds like Mangalore and Udupi in coastal Karnataka.

Modi has fired the imagination of the middle classes and urban voters, not only in Gujarat, but across a wide swathe of the nation. Karnataka is no exception to the Modi mania. On the streets and in cafes and offices across the state, people are discussing Modi and his brand of development politics.

On social media too, a majority of urban and middle-class Kannadigas have seemingly been enamoured by Modi. There are at least two Facebook pages called “Narendra Modi Fans from Karnataka” with large “likers”. Everyday, the Modi phenomenon is being promoted and the Internet is being bombarded by images of Modi.

Modi has a task cut out, if he campaigns in Karnataka. Firstly, he will have to tell the people that corruption will no longer be tolerated and he apologises, on behalf of the party, for whatever happened in the past. Secondly, he has to promise the urban voters, especially the youth, that their feelings and aspirations would be taken care of.

At the moment, it seems only Narendra Modi, among all top party leaders, can connect with the masses and convince them to return the BJP back to power in Karnataka.

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Congress conundrum

Senior old timers have urged the party high command not to admit any “outsiders” especially during election time. They are objecting to the party’s position of admitting “winnable and capable” MLAs from other parties into their fold. Even federal Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas M Veerappa Moily and former federal railway minister C K Jaffer Sharief expressed their concerns to the party high command in New Delhi about the entry of what they described as “opportunists” who had earlier left the party for ripe pickings.

Politicking is picking up pace in Karnataka as the date for the all-important elections to the state legislative assembly approaches. Although on the face of it, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems set to be the biggest loser with Ministers and MLAs deserting the sinking ship, the party which seeks to gain the biggest advantage is itself in a total mess.

But within the Congress it is the absence of a clear-cut leadership that is biting the party so cruelly. Not only that, old foggies are now coming out of the woodwork to claim their chance at providing a “good leadership”.

So far, the Congress party high command seems not to be bothered. (Neither has the BJP’s central leadership shown any inclination to set things right in Karnataka).

But in Karnataka, as mentioned, the BJP’s loss is the Congress party’s gain. Those quitting the BJP now are making a beeline to the main opposition party in the state, instead of former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa’s Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP) as was expected. The KJP did get a few, but that seems all a thing of the past. Even those who joined Yedyurappa are his own die-hard loyalists. A couple of defectors might also cross over to the other opposition party, the Janata Dal (Secular) headed by former prime minister H D Deve Gowda.

The reason for this is that surveys have shown that the Congress party is set to return to power in the state, which was once described as the BJP’s gateway to the south. The surveys have given the Congress party a comfortable lead over the BJP, but the KJP, like Keshubhai Patel’s Gujarat Parivartan Party may not play a spoiler, though it might bag a couple of seats. The JD(S) is shown as coming in a distant third (read here).

Kaun Banega Mukhyamantri: Siddaramaiah, Moily, Krishna, Sharief, Parameshwara

Kaun Banega Mukhyamantri: Siddaramaiah, Moily, Krishna, Sharief, Parameshwara

But with the trickle of new entrants, notably ministers C P Yogeshwar and Narasimha Nayak alias Raju Gowda, threatening to turn into a flood, there is great unease in the Congress party.

Senior old timers (read: loyalists) like former KPCC chief R V Deshpande have urged the party high command not to admit any “outsiders” especially during election time. They are objecting to the party’s position of admitting “winnable and capable” MLAs from other parties into their fold.

Even federal Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas M Veerappa Moily and former federal railway minister C K Jaffer Sharief expressed their concerns to the party high command in New Delhi about the entry of what they described as “opportunists” who had earlier left the party for ripe pickings.

Moily and Sharief have even written to party president Sonia Gandhi urging her not to admit the defectors.

But both Yogheswar and Raju Gowda are now busy distributing Congress party tickets to their supporters for the local body elections to be held on March 7. These elections are being seen as a semi-final before the big one in May this year.

But the main problem lies within the Congress party itself. The issue of state leadership is not settled one way or the other as yet. Even though G Parameshwara as the KPCC chief is doing a commendable job give the circumstances, he is considered a light-weight and mostly ignored.

There are more contenders for chief ministership, now that the party might return to power, but leading the pack is Siddaramaiah, the leader of the opposition in the Karnataka assembly, who himself once defected from the JD(S) because Deve Gowda gave preference to his son Kumaraswamy over the party loyalist. Siddaramaiah has made his intentions clearly known, but faces opposition from “loyalists”. Federal minister Moily himself is one of the contenders.

So far the Congress party high command, true to its style of working, has not indicated its choice for the chief ministership, but added to the confusion by returning former chief minister S M Krishna back to the state, relieving him of his duties as federal external affairs minister.

Despite a rosy picture being painted, the Congress party’s dilemma over both issues – of leadership and admitting defectors from other parties – remain unresolved and is bound to cause unease among loyal party workers and as a result have negative effect on the results.

The Congress party, as well as other parties, will know where they stand once the results for the May 7 urban local bodies polls are out (read here).

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