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Karnataka local body polls give Congress, JD(S) the jitters

Coalition partners Congress and the Janata Dal (S) are up against their latest challenge on whether to tie-up for the upcoming elections to 108 urban local bodies (ULBs) in Karnataka or fight independently.

india Updated: Jul 20, 2018 16:45 IST
Vikram Gopal
Vikram Gopal
Bengaluru, Hindustan Times
Karnataka local body polls,Congress,Janata Dal (S)
Former chief minister Siddaramaiah, AICC general secretary in-charge of Karnataka KC Venugopal, JD(S) national secretary general Danish Ali, chief minister HD Kumaraswamy and deputy chief minister G Parameshwara during Congress-JD(S) coordination committee meeting, in Bengaluru. (PTI file photo)

Coalition partners Congress and the Janata Dal (S) are up against their latest challenge on whether to tie-up for the upcoming elections to 108 urban local bodies (ULBs) in Karnataka or fight independently with both parties acknowledging that an alliance at a local level would be difficult.

The coalition government in the state has had a rocky existence so far and has faced a series of challenges. While it has so far managed to pass these hurdles, there has been a lot of damage with senior leaders especially in the Congress openly airing differences with the JD(S).

ULB polls are viewed as barometer of the mood of the people in the state. The last time these polls for these 108 bodies were held was in February 2013, two months before the assembly elections that year, and had proved to be a pointer to the eventual sweep by the Congress in the assembly polls. Hence, there is a lot riding on these polls as LS polls are less than a year away.

However, as the ULBs held their first meeting only in September 2013, with which their five-year term officially began, the elections could not be held earlier this year.

A senior official in the state election commission said reservation of the wards had not yet been completed by the state government and elections would be held as soon as this was done. “The term of these local bodies ends in the first week of September, so we will have to hold the elections before then ideally,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Both the Congress and the JD(S) acknowledge that while coalitions for fighting polls might be relatively easier at the Lok Sabha level, their party workers will not be enthused by the prospect of an alliance at the local level.

State Congress working president Eshwar Khandre said a decision had not yet been taken on the alliance, but acknowledged that it would be hard to rally local workers to form an alliance for the ULB polls. “The All India Congress Committee general secretary in-charge of the state unit (KC Venugopal) is set to visit on Saturday and we will hold discussions with the district-level leaders,” he said.

Khandre conceded that while the leadership was keen on continuing the alliance till the Lok Sabha elections, it would be very difficult to rally workers, especially in southern Karnataka where the Congress and JD(S) are direct rivals, to join hands.

However, state Congress president Dinesh Gundu Rao said the last time the two parties were in an alliance, between 2004 and 2006, they had fought independently in the local body polls. “While there is a precedent, we will still hold consultations on the direction forward,” he said.

Danish Ali, national secretary general of the JD(S), also said that there had as yet not been any discussions on the ULB polls. “We will have to discuss these matters internally first and then if the need arises we will discuss with our alliance partner,” he said.

A senior JD(S) leader said it would be very difficult for workers to digest an alliance with the Congress. The difficulty lies in the fact that the Congress’s support base is spread out across the state, whereas for the JD(S), its support is predominantly based in the southern interior districts, where the Vokkaliga community is dominant.

And in those southern districts the contest is a direct one between the Congress and JD(S). The senior JD(S) leader quoted above said, any move to align with the Congress in those districts could only result in allowing the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is dominant in the coastal and northern regions of the state, an entry into the Vokkaliga dominated region which both the Congress and the JD(S) want to avoid at all costs.

Political analyst Narayana A, a faculty member at the Azim Premji University, said these local body polls were a question of survival for both parties. “If they intend to survive as independent parties they will have to contest the polls by themselves. Alliances at the local level work only if there are fronts like in Kerala where the partners in the fronts are not likely to change. That is not the case here,” he said.

Narayana said it was easier to rally workers to support an alliance partner in the Lok Sabha polls, where national considerations could trump local ones. “For ground-level party workers, the control of local institutions is of prime importance because that is the best way to cater to their support groups. Any alliance at that level is likely to alienate party workers and would prove detrimental in the long run,” he said.

First Published: Jul 20, 2018 16:45 IST