Congress ahead in Karnataka

Karnataka is the only saving grace for national political parties such as BJP or Congress, as most of southern states have gone the regional way – Tamil Nadu, DMK and AIADMK dominate, Telengana TRS in control, Andhra Pradesh TDP and YSR Congress contest fiercely, and in Kerala the LDF and UDF fight it out, with leftists having the edge most of the times.

But Congress, having ruled for over 60 years, has a foothold in Karnataka, which in the last 10 years BJP has usurped building a strong base through the right wing brigade of RSS volunteers. In 2014, while BJP swept the Lok Sabha polls nationwide under the Modi wave, Congress sent the highest number of MPs totally nine in number to the Lok Sabha , in the face of BJP consistently consolidating its position in the state since the 90’s , making its entry into the south.

The 17th Lok Sabha elections, which gets underway on April 11 in the first phase for about 90 states in different states, will be crucial for the Congress to regain its foothold in the State after a poor performance in the 2018 Assembly elections, media reports from Karnataka claim.

Karnataka sent the highest number of Congress MPs (9) to Parliament in 2014 and the state is considered its traditional stronghold, though the BJP has consistently consolidated its position here since the 1990s, making it its gateway to the south.

After the Congress’ poor showing in 2018 (80 Assembly seats), it patched up a post-poll alliance with the Janata Dal (S) and formed a coalition government, for the second time in the past 15 years, to keep the saffron party out of power. This was seen as the first step in a larger, nationwide experiment. But it has been an uneasy coalition with the CM Kumaraswamy, son of the strongman and former PM Deve Gowda, founder of JD(S), not wanting to be dictated by the Congress.

Now, for the first time, the Congress and the JD(S) have decided to extend the assembly alliance and fight together in the 28 Lok Sabha constituencies in the State. While the Congress will contest 20 seats, the JD(S) will fight for the remaining eight, according to political observers.

Even as the Congress and JD (S) share a love hate relationship that virtually threatens the government almost day to day, the Lok Sabha polls could turn out to be definitive factor for the continuation of the coalition government. Political observers feel that the Congress will be able to regain its grip on the state government and the electorate, only if the party manages to win at least in 15 constituencies and a Congress-led government takes over at the Centre. In the event of the Congress and the BJP sharing equal number of seats, the State and the BJP falls short of majority, but retains power with the support of allies, H.D. Kumaraswamy-led government may continue functioning smoothly in the State, political pundits predict.

An alternate scenario that threatens the Kumaraswamy government is that, if the Congress doesn’t win majority seats and the BJP retains power at the Centre with absolute majority, the Congress – JS (S) coalition government will become shaky, as its definite that Yedurappa, former CM, will gather the lambs in his party and allies to resume horse trading withlegislators from the Congress-JD (S) combine to destabilise the government.

The Congress –JD(S) alliance seems a divided house at present because a section of Congress leaders strongly oppose the “opportunisticalliance”which the BJP might take advantage of. It’s absolutely necessary for the Congress – JD(S) alliance partners to sink their differences and close their ranks and fight or take the BJP upfront.

Behen Mayawati, leader of the BSP who stitched an alliance with rival SP of Akhilesh-Mulayam SinghYadav in UP, which opted out of the Congress–JD(S) coalition a few months ago, has now decided to contest all the 28 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka. BSP may not be able to win much seats, but it could be a great spoiler, because its vote share is less than 1% in the State in the past two Assembly polls. While the party is optimistic of some “chance” of winning at least two seats — Chickballapur and Chamarajanagar — its larger strategy is to fight to retain its “national party” tag that has come under threat.

There are at least three conditions for a party to satisfy to get the national party status. One, it should get a national vote share of at least 6% of the total votes; win at least 2% of seats in the Lok Sabha. This can give them the recognition of a state party in at least three states.

The BSP got the national party status in 2009 with a vote share of 6.17% translating to 21 seats, but won only 4.19% of votes thus failing to win even one seat in 2014.

Retired Chief Secretary K. Ratna Prabha is being wooed by several political parties in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections. But she told the media she was undecided as contesting the national election was very tough call for her to take. “There have been intense speculation and offers from multiple parties ever since my retirement. I am carefully weighing the pros and cons of such a foray into politics,” she is quoted by the media as saying.

Political sources claim she was being offered ticket not just in Karnataka but also in the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh from where she hails. Ms.Ratna Prabha, a Dalit, has been approached by both the BJP and the BSP with offers to contest from Kalaburagi or Kolar and Chamarajanagar, respectively, sources said. Both the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the YSR Congress have also approached her. Ratna Prabha is clear that her area of work would be Karnataka, but will it be in politics or not is a call she is yet to take, keeping all political parties on the edge.

Judging by the trends, the Congress central leadership is trying hard with the state Congress to close its ranks and be firm on the alliance with the JD(S) as its advantage for Congress against BJP as President Rahul Gandhi has whipped up a powerful campaign against Modi’s so called “Misgovernance “ in the last five years. Modi’ schemes have hurt the people more than it has helped them is the message state Congress and JD(S) is sending to the people. How much of this the people of Karnataka will buy is the question that haunts all the political parties. But its advantage Congress right now. As BJP is riven with factions and there is a leadership tussle.