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In the swirling eddies of Karnataka politics, former CM Yeddyurappa has thrown the electoral game wide open with a new regional outfit whose future is uncertain. But, if nothing else, it could play the BJP’s party pooper, writes Kumar Buradikatti
KUMAR BURADIKATTI | Issue Dated: December 9, 2012, New Delhi
Tags : Karnatka Janata Party | BS Yeddyurappa | HD Kumaraswamy | Siddaramaiah | Malikarjun Kharge |

Karnataka politics has been split wide open. Former Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa has parted ways with the BJP and announced the launch of the Karnataka Janata Party (KJP). Will his move undermine the prospects of the party he served for nearly 40 years and hand the state unit of the Congress a lifeline? The former eventuality is inevitable; the latter scenario is still in the realms of conjecture.

 Karnataka has never been kind to regional parties. Many political stalwarts have, over the last six decades, come a cropper in the bid to develop a strong regional political outfit.

Congress (O) of Nijalingappa, Lokashakthi of Ramakrishna Hegde, Karnataka Congress Party and Karnataka Vikas Party of S Bangarappa, Kannada Desha of farmers’ leader Professor MD Nanjundaswamy, Janata Party of Vijay Mallya, Kannada Naadu of Vijay Sankeshwar, Sarvodaya Karnataka of Devanur Mahadeva and Suvarna Karnataka of Mahima Patel – the list of failed experiments is long.

Yeddyurappa knows history all too well. So he dithered for a long while before eventually severing his ties with the BJP. He sought rehabilitation but was repeatedly slighted by the party high command. Yet he hung in there. His line was: “I have built the party in the state, so why should I quit?” That stance did not spring from any special love for the BJP; it stemmed from the well-founded anxiety that a regional party might have an uncertain future. His decision to take the plunge came only after he had exhausted all his options.

The BJP is on the backfoot and the Congress is struggling to put its house in order. So Yeddyurappa could emerge as kingmaker, alongside the father-son duo of HD Deve Gowda and HD Kumaraswamy, when the two main political parties scramble to get the required numbers after the next Karnataka Assembly election.

Three major factors helped the BJP win the last Assembly election. Besides Yeddyurappa himself with the backing of the dominant Lingayat community, the party rode on the financial might of the Reddy brothers of Bellary and the Sangh parivar’s grassroots support base.

 Now, two of those sources of strength have turned hostile to the BJP. Yeddyurappa has quit and G Janardhana Reddy is behind bars. While the ex-CM has floated his own party, Janardhana Reddy is operating (through his right hand man B Shriramulu) the Badava Shramika Raitha Congress (BSR Congress). These two forces are likely to eat into the BJP’s vote share in every Assembly constituency.

 The ruling party is on a sticky wicket anyway with the anti-incumbency factor staring it in the face. The state has witnessed shabby governance in the last four years and the BJP has been beset with infighting, open revolts and corruption charges.

But the BJP’s plight does not automatically swing the balance in Yeddyurappa’s favour. He is, at best, testing the waters to see if his Lingayat vote bank, given its influence and size, can carry him through. He will not have the BJP’s traditional vote and the Reddys’ money on his side.

 As for Janardhana Reddy, it is almost certain that he will not be out of jail anytime soon, given the gravity of the CBI’s charges against him in the illegal mining scam. His BSR Congress cannot influence the voter beyond Bellary. In these circumstances, the Opposition parties in Karnataka may have reason to be optimistic.There could be many ifs and buts on the way though, none bigger than the absence of a credible mass leader with a well-oiled organisation in the opposition camp.

 As for JDS, it is widely acknowledged as a party of the Vokkaligas. It has never had any major influence beyond the belt in south Karnataka that the community dominates. That scenario does not seem likely to change in the next election.

In fact, neither the former Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy nor his father and JDS supremo HD Deve Gowda have ever hoped to wrest power on their own strength. What they have been trying, at least in recent times, is to grab enough seats to derive as much benefit as they can by being part of a ruling coalition.

Even the Congress is not in a position to take complete advantage. On the one hand, the party has too many leaders jockeying for power; on the other, none of them has the kind of mass clout that can unite the rank and file in an electoral battle.  It has long been regarded as a party of leaders with no committed cadre behind them.

Union minister Mallikarjun Kharge, state unit president Dr G Parmeshwar, Opposition leader Siddaramaiah, KPCC working president DK Shivakumar, and Lingayat leader Shamanur Shivashankarappa are all in the same boat. And now former Union Minister for External Affairs SM Krishna is back in the mix. Each one of them is an aspirant to the CM’s post.

 It is believed that the removal of Krishna from MEA was due to his poor performance and the need to make space for new faces in the Union Cabinet in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. However, it is more likely that Krishna resigned in order to lead the Congress in Karnataka.

 Krishna’s re-entry may actually boomerang on the party. Many state Congress stalwarts, with the exception of Krishna aides DK Shivakumar and RV Devaraj, are unhappy at his return. Most of them have chief ministerial ambitions and cannot be expected to throw their weight behind Krishna’s bid.

Moreover, Krishna, a darling of a section of the English-language media here, is not much of a crowd-puller. Admittedly, he has a following among Bangalore’s elite, because he, during his tenure as CM, fuelled the growth of the city as an IT, biotech and BPO hub. But these segments of the urban population are unlikely to step out of their homes and vote when it matters.

 Another Congress leader and Union minister Mallikarjun Kharge has been an aspirant to the CM’s post for a long time. He and his supporters strongly believe that it was Krishna who queered the pitch for Kharge in 1999.

 They even allege that Krishna and his supporters did everything to defeat Kharge in the last Assembly election. Kharge himself hinted recently that he is determined to realise his long cherished dream of becoming the chief minister at least once.

 On the other hand, senior Congress leader Shamanur Shivashankarappa, a Lingayat, is lobbying for the KPCC president’s post. He and his supporters visited Delhi recently with the intention of meeting Sonia Gandhi and staking his claims on the grounds that his caste affiliation could be handy in the coming election. Unfortunately for him, the meeting did not materialise and he had to return empty-handed.

The present state unit president Dr Parameshwar is facing a double threat from Krishna on the one hand and Shivashankarappa on the other. He is making every effort to ward off the challenge. Parameshwar is regarded as "a decent person without any corruption stigma", but that might not be enough to lead a party in the elections.

Of these state Congress bigwigs in the fray, only Siddaramaiah is a crowd-puller. He is from the Kuruba caste, the third largest community in Karnataka after the Lingayats and Vokkaligas. There have been other Kuruba leaders like BJP’s KS Eeshwarappa and Congress’ H Vishwanath, but they have been viewed more as leaders of their respective parties than as leaders of the community.

Siddaramaiah, on the other hand, represents his community more than his party. But, in a scenario in which a host of leaders are seeking to pull each other down, there might be little elbow room for a mass leader like Siddaramaiah.

When Siddaramaiah was completely sidelined in JDS by Deve Gowda to clear the way for his son Kumaraswamy, he left the party and joined the Congress but remained first and foremost a leader of his community. Even in the new party, he was allowed little breathing space. He had to wait for several years before the Congress high command deigned it fit to recognise his mass base and make him the leader of Opposition in the state Assembly.

 Yeddyurappa is striving to wean Siddaramaiah away from the Congress with an eye on strengthening his newly founded KJP. Siddaramaiah might be tempted to respond to the feelers. If he joins hands with the former CM, the two powerful mass leaders of two dominant communities could prove to be a handful for both the Congress and the BJP.

Apart from the power tussle within the state Congress unit, what could hurt the party is the fast dipping graph of the UPA government at the Centre. Even if the Congress does derive some benefit from Yeddyurappa’s departure from the BJP, it is unlikely to be in a position to form a government in Bangalore on its own.

B Parvateesh, political analyst and observer, predicts that JDS would be the biggest gainer in the political churn that Karnataka is currently witnessing. Deve Gowda’s party could raise its number of Assembly seats from 27 and 40.

“No single party,” Parvateesh says, “will cross the 113 mark in the 225-seat Assembly and form a government on its own. Any party that crosses 75 will emerge on top. Since the Congress and the BJP never join hands, Karnataka will see a coalition of not two but three parties.”

A senior Congress leader in Karnataka admits as much on condition of anonymity. “I recently toured more than 12 districts. The Congress cannot get a simple majority in the coming election. It will get 60-70 seats out of 225. The BJP will win 35-40 and KJP will get 25-30,” he reckons. He, too, accepts that the real gainer will be JDS.

“I will not be surprised if JDS wins 50-60 seats,” says the Congress leader. “When Kumaraswamy organises public rallies, be it of Muslims or any other community, at least one lakh people turn up. And when we organise such public meetings, no more than five to ten thousand people gather.”

The Congress leader’s pessimism has much to do with the perception that the state unit is hobbled by a weak chief. “No mass mobilisation programme has been taken up since Parameshwar took charge. We have a mass leader like Siddaramaiah but he is not allowed to unleash his full potential,” he adds. What Yeddyurappa does in terms of impacting the final outcome of the next Karnataka Assembly election will depend largely on the numbers that the other key political players secure. But urrespective of what the former chief minister's new party achieves in terms of presence in the House, there is no denying that he and his MLAs will play a significant role in the post-poll scenario in the state.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017