The two most important factors —caste and muscle power, besides money, of course — that control Indian politics will be on a grand show this time in the parliamentary by-elections on August 21 in Karnataka’s Bengaluru Rural and Mandya.
All eyes will be on Bengaluru Rural, as it will be the first test of the vote-catching skill of chief minister Siddharamaiah. Not a true-blue Congress man, Siddharamaiah came from HD Deve Gowda’s JD(S) after their differences came to a head and is seen in the Congress as a leader imposed from the top.
Although Siddharamaiah’s strength — as a veteran socialist leader — is his tremendous clout among the backward castes, minorities and dalits, his following among his party men is perceptibly thin. So, the Congress high command would now like to test his leadership capabilities as a campaign commander and sense the mood for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
The second factor that will be followed keenly is a make-or-break fight between two powerful families of the Vokkaliga caste — a moneyed farming community that controls much of the political space in Karnataka, the other important caste being the Lingayats.
While the JD(S) is fielding former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda’s daughter-in-law, Anita Kumaraswamy, the Congress has put up DK Suresh, brother of DK Shivakumar, leader of an alternative power centre among the Vokkaligas.
The fight is likely to be intense as both the seats were held by the JD(S), Deve Gowda’s son HD Kumaraswamy and Cheluvaraya Swamy, till they vacated them after winning in the assembly elections in May this year.
Shivakumar, reported to be close to former chief minister and former union foreign minister SM Krishna, is expected to come in handy this time with his money and muscle power, as the rivalry between Deve Gowda and Shivakumar is not new.
What’s more, Siddha-ramaiah, who blocked the entry of Shivakumar into the cabinet because of his alleged role in illegal mining and in the scam involving land use change through illegal denotification, is likely to give him a second chance if he manages to get his brother elected.
Observers say one of the reasons Siddharamaiah will lend his own vote bank to Shivakumar is to check-mate his former boss, Deve Gowda, and to strengthen his own position in the party. Plus, Siddharamaiah is taking the by-election so seriously this time because of the secret deal Deve Gowda has allegedly struck with the BJP —the saffron party will not field its candidate against Anita Kumaraswamy.
The BJP, on the other hand, is trying to build a pre-poll alliance with non-Congress parties, including the JD(S), though the JD(S) ditched it in 2008 by refusing to transfer power according to a coalition agreement.
Siddharamaiah said, “Deve Gowda had said after his son Kumaraswamy formed a coalition government with the BJP that he felt ashamed of joining hands with the BJP. Now, he is doing the same trick. I advise him to remove the ‘Secular’ tag from his party.”
But Deve Gowda claimed in his inimitable style: “There is no question of joining hands with the BJP. We will fight our own battle.”