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HindustanTimes Wed,30 Jul 2014

Karnataka LS polls: Factionalism, corruption plague BJP and Congress

Shekhar Iyer, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, February 10, 2014
First Published: 23:38 IST(10/2/2014) | Last Updated: 12:40 IST(11/2/2014)

Almost a year ago, the assembly polls left the BJP’s first experiment in government in the south in tatters, plagued as it was by a graft-hit image, internal skirmishes and rebellion by a stalwart, such as BS Yeddyurappa, and his supporters.

In May 2013, a negative vote against the saffron family propelled the Congress back in power after 14 years. Analysts conclude if voters stick to the assembly polls pattern, the BJP, which won 19 of the 28 seats in Karnataka in 2009, will be able to win just two or three seats this time.

In January, when two pollsters did their surveys, their projections did not differ dramatically. CNN-IBN poll tracker ventured to give 10 to 18 seats to the Congress, six to 10 seats to the BJP and four to eight seats to Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular).

The India Today-C Voter noted that the BJP looked like gaining momentum with the return of Yeddyurappa, but the Congress’ assembly win could still help it notch up a big number.

Though these projections were quantitative exercises, the bottom line was that Karnataka was the only state south of the Vindhyas appearing positive for the Congress. And the BJP, hoping to ride on the charisma of Narendra Modi, still finds it a struggle.

Yeddyurappa’s return, swallowing his pride and accepting bête noire Ananth Kumar’s offer to work together to save the saffron party’s future, did cheer up the rank and file. But now, Kumar is scared of his own fate in Bangalore South, where the Congress is slated to field Aadhar mastermind Nandan Nilekani.

BJP leaders are circumspect about the electoral arithmetic because they are unsure how their cadres would work with Yeddyurappa’s KJP. Plus, Yeddyurappa is hardly looking a strongman these days. For, his clout among the Lingayat clan, which accounts for 17% votes, is now a matter of speculation.

Does that mean a rosy future for the Congress? Certainly not, argue a section of senior Congress leaders, who are now more than disappointed with the way things are under chief minister Siddaramaiah.

Apart from complacency among party workers, these Congress leaders, including PCC chief G Parameshwara, are alarmed by people’s perception of the state government.

For all his “good” qualities and ability to attract AHINDA (Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits), the CM and his government’s performance remain lacklustre, they say.

A slew of welfare measures, announced just after Siddaramaiah took over, have been delayed for administrative hurdles. His decision to induct D K Shivakumar and Roshan Baig — both facing charges of land-related corruption — as ministers has dented the party’s image.

Besides the ruling party legislators’ eagerness to go on foreign trips instead of attending to their constituencies, the intense lobbying and bitter tussles among various factions for Lok Sabha tickets haven’t helped the party either.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has announced US-style primaries, involving 500 office-bearers to decide candidates for Bangalore North and Dakshina Kannada, which are among the 15 seats in the country where Congress cadres will decide nominees.

The battle for Dakshin Kannada (Mangalore) ticket has put two Gandhi family loyalists, Veerappa Moily and Janaradhan Poojari, face to face. While Poojari wants the ticket for himself, Moily wants it for son Harsha.

What makes the scenario even more complex is that some Congress leaders also suggest that Rahul Gandhi contest from Karnataka in addition to his Amethi seat.

The BJP, too, has its share of seat fights. A reluctant Yeddyurappa has been made to agree to contest from Shimoga while the fight is on between ex-CM Sadananda Gowda and ex-deputy CM R Ashok for Bangalore North.

Once perceived as the king-maker in Karnataka, JD (S) chief Deve Gowda is in a dilemma today because of the drubbing his party got in the assembly polls. A former prime minister, Gowda is now banking heavily on the revival of the Third Front, but his party’s performance could still be a dampener.

The JD(S) workers are yet to recover from the shock they got in the by-elections last year even in the Vokkaliga-dominated Mandya and Bangalore rural Lok Sabha seats. The JD(S) may find retaining its three seats a tough call.

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