Revival of Congress

The ingenuity or knack of the Karnataka voters to make ‘the most intelligent choice’ of a government for the next five years will be put to test once again when they go out to vote in a single-phase election on Sunday.

Though seemingly divided on caste and regional lines, which every political party tries to exploit, they have shown remarkable maturity and sagacity in voting to a pattern over the last few elections and producing stunning results. The invisible trend somehow creates a single thread that traverses through the state and reveals itself when the ballots are counted.

The four major political formations in the state – the Congress, the BJP, the JD(S) and the KJP – have all been publicly and privately claiming that they will win close to or over 50 seats. The leaders of these parties want others also to believe it and will try to reel out the names of constituencies they are sure to win.

Going by these assertions, as there are only 224 seats at stake, one might think that Karnataka could be headed for another hung Assembly, as it happened for the first time in 2004. But indications are, that there is general aversion to leave the result in the balance.

In 2008, the people gave the BJP a near majority, hoping for ‘a government with a difference.’  But the BJP indulged in bitter infighting after coming to power, resulting in three governments in five years, and complete betrayal of the people’s mandate.
Any election ‘pundit’ will admit even after touring parts of the state to gauge the ‘mood’ of the people and culling information from elsewhere that predicting the final result is a hazardous exercise. But the overall trend, it appears, is in favour of a single party rule which offers stability and good governance. Therefore, a hung Assembly is most unlikely.

 The BJP’s image at present is so low that it would be a comical understatement to say that it suffers from anti-incumbency factor. Even if B S Yeddyurappa had remained with the BJP, it would have done just as badly or worse; and with Yeddyurappa splitting the BJP and forming KJP which is contesting nearly all the seats, and B Sriramulu also taking away a chunk, BJP’s return to power is only a mirage.

 This election will also teach Yeddyurappa that it was BJP which made him what he became and people do not trust person-centric parties. He may still have influence over sections of Lingayats, but that won’t be enough to win more than a handful of seats.

As far as JD(S) is concerned, its strength in the Assembly shrunk from a peak of 58 seats in 2004 – when it could still claim to be true inheritor of Janata Dal’s legacy with a cross section of leaders in its ranks – to a mere 28 seats in 2008. Despite H D Kumaraswamy becoming chief minister for 20 months, the JD(S)’ area of influence has hardly grown beyond the Old Mysore belt. The party has become less inclusive, with the Gowda family fully in control. Its best option will be to become a ‘kingmaker’ or at least a ‘partner’ in case no single party gets 113 seats on its own.

Speculations on seats

That leaves the Congress, the largest party with a vote base across the state, with a fair chance of returning to power. Speculations on the number of seats it will win have ranged from 95 to 135, but the fact is, no other party is in a position to come even close to it.

 In 2008, the Congress’ vote share was 35.13 per cent when it won 80 seats. In comparison, the BJP got 110 seats with 33.93 per cent voting in its favour. Even in 2004, when Congress recorded its worst performance of 65 seats, it had a vote share of 35.27 as against 28.33 per cent of the BJP, which bagged 79 seats.

Therefore, even going by simple arithmetic, the Congress should do extremely well should it gain 3 to 4 percentage of more votes. The KJP may not win too many seats, but a large chunk of votes it takes will be at the cost of the BJP and that will be to the advantage of Congress, especially in north Karnataka.

 Unlike in 2008, the Congress did reasonably well with the selection of candidates this time, quelled most of the rebellion in time and ran a more cohesive campaign. As the results of the urban local body elections held just a month ago have shown, the Congress has gained significant ground in north Karnataka, including Hyderabad Karnataka and Bombay Karnataka regions and the coastal belt. The Congress is also likely to do well in Bangalore rural and urban districts which account for 28 seats.

 The BJP has been trying to counter the Congress’ campaign on “BJP’s massive corruption” in the state by pointing to the Congress-led UPA government’s “mega scams,” but it unlikely to sway the voters. The Karnataka voter is remarkably focused on what he wants, which was dramatically exhibited in 1984-85. The Janata Dal led by Ramakrishna Hegde got a drubbing in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections, but when Hegde dissolved the Assembly and sought re-election three months later, his government returned to power with a massive majority.

 Karnataka will most likely offer solace to Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi with a victory for the party after a series of defeats elsewhere in the country. But, it cannot be taken as a barometer of  Congress’ ‘popularity.’ Come 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the voter will make another informed choice, based on a different set of national issues, and perhaps, also an important factor like -- the most suitable candidate for prime minister. But for now, on Sunday, he has a job on hand.

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