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The return of the pendulum

Not only that, even the unofficial betting trends have now started changing. Odds which were being placed on the Congress party have now come down to a trickle, but as of Thursday evening, it was the Congress party that was still ahead. But the confidence with which bets were being placed on the Congress have given way to extreme caution as campaigning draws to a close.

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi

After several pre-poll surveys over the past few months showed the Congress as storming back to power in Karnataka, the pendulum seems to have started its return to the other side.

Not only that, even the unofficial betting trends have now started changing. Odds which were being placed on the Congress party have now come down to a trickle, but as of Thursday evening, it was the Congress party that was still ahead. But the confidence with which bets were being placed on the Congress have given way to extreme caution as campaigning draws to a close.

With each passing day bringing bad news for the Congress party on various fronts at the national level — the Coalgate scandal, the Chinese incursions and the Sarabjit murder in a Pakistani jail — observers noticed a trickle-down effect in the minds of the people of Karnataka.

However, the pendulum has not swung decisively to the other side: Pointers now are that the state is heading for a well and truly hung assembly.

Even a survey conducted for the BJP by the Mumbai-based Prabhodhan Research Group, the BJP is now set to gain at least 81 seats, while the Congress party tally has come down to 95 seats.

That this was essentially war between the BJP and the Congress also became clear with the Prabodhan survey indicating that the Janata Dal (Secular) getting about 27 seats, KJP eight seats, the Reddy brothers’ BSR Congress Party five and independents bagging eight seats out of a 225 seat assembly (of which one seat is for a nominated member of the Anglo-Indian community.

As compared to the earlier polls, the trends for the JD(S), KJP and others were more or less the same.

A survey carried out in January this year had shown the Congress getting about 133 seats, but this figures started coming down and by March, was predicted that the Congress would get anywhere between 112 and 126 seats.

It was widely expected that the BJP would lose in the state because its image had taken a beating thanks to former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa’s shenanigans and the corruption muck that appeared to have stuck to the ruling party.

Indeed, the people of Karnataka were angry with the goings in a party that they had voted as an alternative to the Congress and the “third front” like the Janata Dal (Secular) and its earlier avatars.

The anger was well and truly deserved by the BJP, but by December, Yeddyurappa was out and formed his own Karnataka Janata Paksha with an avowed stance to destroy the BJP.

He tried his level best to rope in several ministers who were seen as close to him; in the end only two crossed over.

As the Congress was being shown as gaining tremendously, many deserted the BJP to join the main opposition party in the state assembly.

With Yeddyurappa and others out, and the BJP shouting from the rooftops that the party had been cleansed of corrupt elements, the anger started dissipating slowly, but there was nothing to indicate that the voters would return back to the BJP in droves.

UdupiNet started noting that the people of Karnataka were also watching developments that were taking place in New Delhi. The image of the Congress was also getting battered — even more seriously than that of the BJP in Karnataka — and like many other Indians, they also sat up to take note of that new messiah: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

Modi’s SRCC talk (and later at other fora) became a hot topic and there was a wish that Karnataka should have someone like Modi as the chief minister.

In fact, the Open magazine carried out a nation-wide survey and found that the people would prefer Modi over anyone else, including Rahul, if he were the candidate for prime ministership. What is of interest is that Modi was a choice even in the southern states, including Karnataka with an impressive figure 55 as against26 for Rahul.

The Karnataka BJP was hoping on Modi to campaign extensively in the state, but the Gujarat chief minister kept them on tenterhooks. The Congress started a whisper campaign that Modi was loathe to come to Karnataka since the BJP was a sinking ship.

But on April 28, Modi addressed a well-attended meeting in Bangalore and this charged up the BJP cadres and a large section of the voters.

On Thursday, Modi followed it up by two back-to-back meetings, the first in Mangalore in coastal Karnataka, and the second at Belgaum in North Karnataka.

Modi’s meetings were a hit and his Bangalore address was relayed live over the internet and was displayed on a mobile big screen in other places, including Udupi.

If a survey was to be held today, it would have shown the BJP gaining even more, almost equal to if not more than the Congress party.

Another factor that worked against the Congress — which has the uncanny ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory — was the infighting that severely damaged its prospects.

There were several claimants for the chief ministership — the party has not seen such an open, shameless desire for power from amongst its leadership anywhere — and many rebels entered the fray in several constituencies.

Some like former chief minister and party veteran S M Krishna openly expressed his unhappiness with the party for having sidelined him totally while distributing tickets.

What has also damaged the Congress severely that their charges of corruption against the BJP could not stick since it gave tickets to three high-profile mining barons, whose companies were indicted by the Supreme Court.

The party also had all their big guns in the battle for Karnataka: party president Sonia Gandhi, her son Rahul and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. However, their speeches did not have the fire and brimstones that were expected of them, tired as they were with the continuous flak they were facing from all sides in New Delhi. In fact, it was reported that people had started moving out even before Manmohan Singh could finish reading out his speech at one election rally.

The main topcis they covered were corruption, power generation and development.

But they failed to impress since they were also seen being as corrupt if not more than the BJP in Karnataka.

It is not to say that Modi was the BJP’s lone campaigner in Karnataka. In fact a galaxy of leaders such as L K Advani, Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, campaigned extensively.

But credit must be given to Modi for not only effectively demolishing the Congress party, but also painting a shining image of the post-Yeddyurappa BJP in development terms.

Only Modi could successfully bring back the BJP’s image as a pro-development party, though the others, including the state leadership, tried hard to convey the good work that their party had done.

One this is sure, though. Modi has definitely given sleepless nights to the Congress leadership and tonight, even if they fall asleep after a couple of tiring weeks, they would have nightmares in which Modi would appear to them as Gabbar Singh or Thakur Baldev Singh!

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Coastal K’taka: BJP in fightback mode as Congress falters

Congress party president Sonia Gandhi’s election rally in Mangalore saw far fewer crowds; half the size of those present during her visit in September last year. According to DNA, “She came, she spoke, but apparently, she did not conquer”. “Congress leaders in the coastal region are now a worried lot. They gave an excuse that it was the scorching heat that kept people from Gandhi’s event.”

Sonia Gandhi with Oscar Fernandes

Sonia Gandhi with Oscar Fernandes

Parkala Observer: Shrikant N ShenoyThe optimism generated after last month’s urban local body (ULB) poll victory in the Congress party in the coastal districts of Karnataka has now given way to caution. The party that was confident of repeating the same in the assembly elections also has now started feeling some jitters.

The first was when tickets were distributed. In some constituencies, many partymen openly protested against candidates that were selected. There was so much acrimony that cental leaders from Karnataka like Veerappa Moily and Oscar Fernandes came in the line of fire and openly blamed for the fiasco.

Mangalore South is one example. A former bureaucrat was picked over “loyal” Congressmen.

In Kaup constituency in Udupi district, Congressman Vasant Salian, who was widely expected to get the ticket, filed his nomination as the Janata Dal (S) candidate after the party decided to give the ticket to AICC secretary Vinay Kumar Sorake, who was a two-time MP. Salian is very popular here and a Congress victory is in doubt, political observers feel.

But more interesting is the case of Udupi, the home of the famous Shri Krishna temple, where the Bharatiya Janata Party’s morale received a hard hit after after the ULB debacle.

Here too the Congress party was confident because after about 40 years, the party rode to victory in what was considered as a BJP bastion. The BJP also suffered a jolt when its two-time sitting MLA, K Raghupathi Bhat, got embroiled in a sleaze CD scandal and opted out of the race. The sleaze CD was widely circulated just ahead of filing of nominations.

In Udupi, the Congress party fielded Pramod Madhwaraj, who has lost two previous elections, though one was from a different constituency. (Interestingly, this was in total flouting of norms set by Congress party vice president Rahul Gandhi.)

The Congress went hammer and tongs at the BJP and tried to rubbish the work done by Bhat, who was widely acknowledged as having done immense work in this constituency.

BJP's Raghupati Bhat

BJP’s Raghupati Bhat

But despite having decided to sit out this time, Bhat started campaigning actively along with his replacement, Sudhakar Shetty, and hit out at the Congress for what he called their “pack of lies”.

He also rubbished promises made by Madhwaraj, claiming that they were unworkable. The main issue was the Congress party candidate’s promise to get water to Udupi town from Varahi river, some 40 km away.

Udupi and its satellite town Manipal, faces difficulty in water supply the last part of the summer season. The population has grown manifold and the present water supply is from Udupi’s own Swarna river. The BJP had constructed ventedtwo dams and this was enough for now, said Bhat. Last summer, when the problem became acute, he claimed that there was 24-hour water supply every day till May 15. But ever since the Congress came to power in the Udupi CMC, the water supply was restricted from early April itself. He claimed there was enough water stored in one vented dam to ensure 24-hours water supply at least till May 15 on a daily basis, but the Congress was seeking to gain advantage by blaming the BJP for the water problem.

Bhat also said there was a proposal for Phase III of the Swarna project, which would take care of future needs for at least 25 years and the cost would be much less when compared to the Varahi proposal. Interestingly, when Gundu Rao was the Congress party’s chief minister of Karnataka, he had laid a foundation stone for the Varahi project to supply water to farmers way back in 1989, but the project had failed miserably. It was only in 2010 that water was first pumped into the left bank canal for the irrigation project.

In 2004, the Varahi proposal for drinking water to Udupi was reviewed and the cost was estimated at Rs 132 crore. Now, the cost would have escalated manifold, whereas the Swarna Third Phase would cost only about Rs 25 crore, Bhat said. (Madhwaraj’s estimate was about Rs 100 crore.)

In any case, Varahi’s waters are meant primarily for use by farmers and diverting this water to Udupi would pose not only logistical problems, but promote bitterness among various groups in Udupi and Kundapur, through which Varahi flows.

Bhat’s taking charge of the fightback has rejuvenated the BJP cadres. Central leaders like Varun Gandhi have campaigned here.

Also, Congress party’s Madhwaraj already suffered two jolts: The first when a case was booked against him on charges of attempting to bribe voters under the Representation of People’s Act and also under the Indian Penal Code. He was accused offering gold coins to self-hell groups who would ensure him the maximum number of votes in the elections.

Madhwaraj also had his water tankers seized by the district admistration on similar charges.

A visibly shaken Madhwaraj tried subtly to imply that the cases against him were due to the BJP’s influence on the adminstration.

But the BJP has been kept the best for the last. Narendra Modi will be campaigning once again in Karnataka, and this time it would be in Mangalore on Thursday, May 2. This announcement made by MP Nalin Kateel in Manglore today came as great morale booster to the BJP cadres.

The BJP also adopted a hi-tech campaign. A huge video screen was engaged to highlight the work done by Bhat. This became a huge hit.

The BJP's video on wheels

The BJP’s video on wheels

This video screen was also used by the BJP to relay live Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s morale-boosting speech in Bangalore on Sunday at Malpe — Madhwaraj’s stronghold — where the BJP claimed that about 10,000 people had gathered.

But the icing on the cake for the BJP was this: Congress party president Sonia Gandhi’s election rally in Mangalore on Sunday saw far fewer crowds; half the size of those present during her visit in September last year. According to DNA, “She came, she spoke, but apparently, she did not conquer”. (See the DNA report here)

Writes the newspaper’s correspondent: “Congress leaders in the coastal region are now a worried lot. They gave an excuse that it was the scorching heat that kept people from Gandhi’s event.”

But the BJP has kept the best for the last. Narendra Modi will be campaigning once again in Karnataka, and this time it would be in Mangalore on Thursday, May 2. This announcement made by MP Nalin Kateel in Manglore today came as great morale booster to the BJP cadres.

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