The Congress must be keeping its fingers crossed despite the fact that most of the pre-poll surveys have predicted that the grand old party will get the maximum number of seats in Karnataka and form the next government. The beleaguered Congress at the Centre – with scam after scam plaguing it left, right and centre, with perception of policy paralysis hitting it hard, with allies leaving it at regular intervals, and with the Supreme Court lashing out at it, a victory in Karnataka will give it the much needed oxygen and a boost before the General Elections 2014. The party, if it manages to cross the winning line, will also heave a sigh of relief after the losses it suffered in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and of course Gujarat.
Most of the pre-poll surveys have predicted more than 110 seats in the 224-member Assembly for the Congress and have said that the ruling BJP is likely to lose substantial ground in the elections. The Congress also conducted its own internal survey after it released its manifesto, which has predicted that the party would get somewhere between 110-115 seats.
The calculations are simple – the BJP which has been hit hard by the taint of corruption and non-governance is facing a strong anti-incumbency wave and the biggest beneficiary of it, in all likelihood, will be the Congress. And if the urban local body elections in March this year are any indication, then the Congress has all the reasons to be upbeat. It won 1960 wards of the 4952 wards and emerged as the single largest party in 69 of the 207 ULBs.
HD Kumaraswamy’s JD(S) and BS Yeddyurappa’s KJP are also in the fray but going by the trends, they may not be able to get enough seats to form the government, even though Congress will have to work hard to defeat them in bastions of Old Mysore and Northern Karnataka . Also, in case of no party getting a majority on their own, both these parties may well emerge as the kingmakers.
No wonder, the body language of the Congress leadership is upbeat and confident, especially that of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Sonia, who chose her words carefully in the Gujarat Assembly Elections last December and did not directly hit out at Chief Minister Narendra Modi, has gone hammer and tongs against the ruling party in Karnataka. Without mincing words she has accused the BJP government in Karnataka of “acquiring a dubious reputation for unparalleled loot and corruption, illegal mining and land grabbing deals” and said that the UPA was determined to provide an ‘accountable government’.
Whereas, Rahul Gandhi who almost seemed reluctant to visit Gujarat and went to the state at the fag end of the campaigning, has been doing the rounds of Karnataka challenging the BJP to talk about corruption in the state instead of talking about corruption of the Congress-led UPA government at Centre. He also rubbed it in by saying that for the first time in history, a chief minister had gone to jail, apparently referring to BS Yeddyurappa, who had to quit as CM on graft charge after his indictment by the state Lokayukta.
On a personal level, a win in Karnataka will be victory of sorts for the Congress vice president who has been dubbed as a failure in the arena of electoral politics, unable to garner votes for the party in most of the states that he has campaigned. And needless to say, it will also pump up the rank and file of the party’s cadre who see Rahul as their future prime minister.
Thus, in the above scenario, winning in Karnataka after seven years is important for the Congress. Not to miss is the fact that if the Congress is able to consolidate itself in the state, then it can look forward to winning a chunk of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in the next General Elections. It will also help the party to go into the election mode with a certain amount of confidence in other states that are due to go to the polls this year, namely Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi and Chhattisgarh.
However, in what seems like déjà vu, the state Congress once again saw fierce infighting between leaders as far as candidate selection and ticket distribution was concerned. A case in point is the much in news battle for Srirangapatna ticket in Mandya district between former union minister SM Krishna and Union Minister and actor MH Ambareesh. Finally, Ambareesh had his way and his candidate SL Lingaraju was given the ticket replacing Ravindra Srikantaiah, an SM Krishna nominee.
A sulking Krishna did not attend the release of party’s manifesto and has gone on record expressing his displeasure at the way tickets were distributed. Also, a host of rebels, who were denied tickets, have left the party and are standing as independents or have joined other political parties. A united Congress with a clear cut strategy is the need of the hour, especially with the main Opposition in shambles. But it is not to be. However, the party will be hoping that these factors do not dampen their quest to come back to power in the state.
The party has also given tickets to some who are facing criminal charges. For example, the Congress zeroed in on Anil Lad, a mining baron to fight from Bellary. Two of his mining firms were shut down at the behest of the Supreme Court after the illegal mining scam came to the fore.
Also, the Congress, in what is their way of functioning, has not named their chief ministerial candidate, unlike the BJP which has named Jagadish Shettar as its CM candidate. It almost seems that the party refuses to learn from its past mistakes, wherein the people are now increasingly voting for strong local leaders in state elections who can deliver for them and not for a faceless party. The situation may be in favour of the Congress, but it is definitely difficult to name one leader in the state who can be said to be a strong force, who can unite all factions, and who can woo the voters with his charisma.
Nonetheless, it can be safely said that the BJP, in the way that they governed the state, have almost given Karnataka on a platter to the Congress and so naming or not naming a CM candidate may not matter so much this time around. It’s more a case of BJP losing than Congress winning. Also, the presence of the KJP and the BSR Congress may only eat into the vote bank of the BJP. The TINA factor (there is no alternative) may just be Congress’ savior in the Karnataka Assembly Elections in 2013.