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Parties Play The Caste Trump Card

Issue Date - 28/02/2013
With national political parties finding themselves out on a limb in Karnataka, it’s the caste-based regional outfits that are calling the shots. Will the political cookie in this southern state crumble the way of Uttar Pradesh?

Karnataka is gearing up for Assembly elections in April. With the fortunes of the ruling BJP and the Congress hitting the skids in the state, caste-based regional formations are likely to gain in the post-poll scenario.

Karnataka is set to go the Uttar Pradesh way. UP is India’s largest state and is accustomed to electoral fragmentation on caste and community lines. Karnataka, only one third the size of UP, is not. So, if a hung Assembly is what the April elections yield, the development would mark a paradigm shift in Karnataka politics. Congress, BJP and Janata Dal are the three parties that have traditionally jostled for seats in the Vidhana Soudha. Two new forces have lately jumped into the fray. Former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa’s Karnataka Janata Party (KJP) and Badava Shramika Raitha Congress (BSR Congress), led by B Shriramulu, the right hand man of jailed mining baron Gali Janardhana Reddy, are likely to queer the pitch for the national parties by taking away a chunk of their votes.

While none of the five contenders are in a position to sweep the polls, KJP and BSR Congress could both wrest enough seats to give the principal parties a run for their money. But in the run-up to the elections, none of the political formations is keen to get into any alliances, preferring to wait and watch the for eventual outcome. For Congress and Janata Dal (Secular), the April polls could be just another electoral battle. But for BJP and KJP, it would be an acid test. The BJP would be out to demonstrate that it has the strength to live down Yeddyurappa’s exit. For the party leaders who have been instrumental in pushing Yeddy out of the BJP, the likes of KS Eeshwarappa, Ananth Kumar, Sadananda Gowda and Jagadish Shettar, the upcoming election would be an opportunity to prove a point.

Yeddy too, would be determined to make the BJP, a party he served for four decades, pay for the folly of neglecting a regional mass leader with the backing of the dominant Lingayat community.

The BJP will also have to contend with the BSR Congress. Yeddy’s mass support and the Reddy’s money power had catapulted BJP to power in Karnataka in 2008. With both now gone, it would be an uphill task for the party to retain power. BJP is unlikely to win more than 50 to 60 seats. In that eventuality, it would be back on the Opposition benches.

In the past, the Congress has had to suffer the consequences of sidelining Veerendra Patil, who was not only a mass leader but also had control over the party’s rank and file. This was something that Yeddy lost no opportunity to remind the BJP’s central leadership of.

When Indira Congress sacked Chief Minister Veerendra Patil, leader of the politically powerful Lingayat community (to which Yeddy himself belongs), and installed S Bangarappa in his place, the party lost the next election and HD Deve Gowda of Janata Dal became the chief minister.

In 1994, history repeated itself. Congress sacked Bangarappa and named Veerappa Moily chief minister. Bangarappa quit Congress and launched his own party, Karnataka Congress Party. His outfit won only ten seats but managed to ensure a Congress defeat in 30 constituencies. Janata Dal stormed to power in the bargain.

That is exactly what Yeddy aspires to achieve. He is aware that KJP will not win a landslide. All he wants to do is play a key role in ensuring that BJP bites the dust in Karnataka in 2013. The KJP could win 30 to 40 seats while significantly eating into the BJP vote share in at least 25 other constituencies.


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