Karnataka: Approaching polls drive BJP, Congress into confession mode

The ruling BJP in Karnataka and its main opponent, the Congress, are becoming experts in correctly diagnosing the ills plaguing them while groping in the dark for a solution as assembly polls approach.

Chief Minister Jagdish Shettar and Deputy Chief Minister K S Eshwarappa . DH Photo

Both the parties are torn by infighting which will only intensify as factions battle to gain prominence in the organization to grab maximum tickets for their members to fight the polls.

The polls are due in May next, but all three parties jockeying for power in the state - the BJP, the Congress and the Janata Dal-Secular - are gearing up for possible elections this year-end.

On the face of it, the Congress should be able to recapture power it lost in 2004 - though it headed a coalition government with the Janata Dal-Secular in 2004-06 -  as BJP's maiden rule in the state has been an unending story of scandals.

However, state Congress leaders are not sure of the party being in aposition to cash in on the opportunity because of lack of unity in the state unit.

With most of the Congress leaders merely mouthing that the state unit is united to face the polls, union Labour Minister Mallikarjun Kharge has chosen to be blunt to drive home the bitter truth.

"Infighting did us in the 2008 assembly elections," Kharge said early this week at a party function in Bangalore to mark the birth anniversaries of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and former Karnataka chief minister D. Devaraj Urs.

He should know as he was then the president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC).

The Congress won just 81 seats in the 225-member assembly, of which 224 are elected and one is nominated. The BJP won 110 seats and formed the government with the help of six independents. The JDS had bagged the remaining 27 seats.

Kharge said, without taking any names, that "our own party leaders" worked against official candidates.

Kharge's assertion about debilitating impact of factional fights comes against the backdrop of a determined bid by a section in the state Congress to unseat KPCC chief G. Parameshwara.

Playing the caste card, Lingayat leaders in the Congress want their own ilk to head the KPCC on the ground that this community, making about 17 percent of state's 65 million population, is largely backing the BJP because it is feeling neglected by the Congress.

State party treasurer and veteran state Congress leader Shamanur Shivashankarappa, who is a Lingayat, has met Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi to seek the KPCC chief's post for himself.

The bait the Lingayat leaders have held out for the Congress leadership is that if Shivashankarappa helms the state unit theparty will win 150 seats in the polls.
Parameshwara is, like Kharge, a Dalit.

Like the Congress, the ruling BJP is a badly divided house with even the worst drought the state is facing in 40 years being used by its leaders to score over rivals in the state unit.

The BJP's first chief minister in the state, B.S. Yeddyurappa, who quit last July over mining bribery charges, leads one group. The other is led by D.V. Sadananda Gowda who lost the chief ministeship within a year of assuming it because of a rebellion by Yeddyurappa.
Then, there are sundry groups owing allegiance to Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar, two deputy chief ministers, K.S. Eshwarappa and R. Ashoka, and another faction made up of legislators who were not made ministers.

In spite of the infighting and Yeddyurappa and around 20 others legislators, including some ministers, facing corruption cases, Eshwarappa, who is also state BJP chief, claims the party will win 150 seats in the coming polls.

At a press meet here Wednesday he acknowledged that the party had committed a mistake by depending on caste and money power to form the government for four years.
He blamed these legislators for spreading factionalism in the state unit and said "if they do not correct themselves, they will not get tickets this time."

However the BJP's problems are much more fundamental also - balancing various factions, even on a serious issue like drought relief.

The need to keep various factions happy has forced the party to form three groups to visit the drought-affected areas following Yeddyurappa's decision to go on such a tour from August 21.

This was seen by his rivals as a move to project himself as the sole leader of the party in the state.

To counter the move, the party formed two more teams - one under Sadananda Gowda and the other under BJP general secretary and Bangalore South Lok Sabha member H.N. Ananth Kumar.

Eshwarappa had a lame excuse, though, for this arrangement - since large areas are affected by drought, one team alone was not sufficient.

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