The second phase of polling on Thursday, including in 14 Lok Sabha constituencies in southern Karnataka, will not only decide the fortunes of several veteran politicians, but also the fate of the 11-month-old HD Kumaraswamy-led coalition government in the state.
When the May 2018 Assembly polls resulted in a hung verdict, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi rushed to offer chief ministership to JD(S)’s Kumaraswamy, primarily to keep the BJP away – which was at a sniffing distance of power, being short by just nine seats – and also to forge an alliance with the JD(S), keeping Parliament elections in mind.
Congress and JD(S), between them, had secured 51.8 percent of the votes to BJP’s 43 percent in 2014 in Karnataka and they had done even better in the Assembly elections. The leaders’ calculation was that if they avoided contesting against each other, they could win as many as 22-24 of the 28 seats at stake.
The swearing-in of the Kumaraswamy government on 23 May last year, on the grand steps of Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru, was turned into a show of Opposition unity and the forging of ‘mahagathbandhan’ to unseat Narendra Modi from power at the Centre.
Much water has flowed down the Cauvery river since then. The Kumaraswamy government has survived many a crisis, and in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections, the seat-sharing between Congress and JD(S) has been anything but smooth. There is widespread dissatisfaction in the Congress for having to concede seats which traditionally belonged to it.
With constant prodding from Rahul Gandhi and HD Deve Gowda, leaders of the two parties have been campaigning together, but in a number of constituencies, the party workers have virtually rebelled against the leadership, making them jittery about the outcome of the elections.
In this phase, the JD(S) has three important battles to win, all involving family members: HD Deve Gowda from Tumakuru and his two grandsons, Prajwal Revanna from Hassan and Nikhil Kumaraswamy from Mandya.
Hassan and Mandya appeared to be a perfect launching pad for the third generation of Gowdas as most of the Assembly seats in these segments are held by the JD(S), Vokkaligas constitute more than 70 percent of voters and the family enjoyed the advantage of being in government. If everything went as per plan, JD(S) should have bagged seven Lok Sabha seats, including these three.
But ever since the candidates were announced a month ago, the public mood towards the Gowda family has turned so hostile that Chief Minister Kumaraswamy is clearly shaken. His campaign speeches are full of abuses directed at his opponents and the media and taunting words against local Congress leaders for not following the 'coalition dharma', and very often, punctuated with shedding of tears in public in a display of self-pity.
Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil is fighting hard in the face of a sympathy wave in favour of Sumalatha Ambareesh in Mandya, Prajwal Revanna’s claim for ‘inheritance’ of Hassan is being strongly challenged by A Manju of the BJP, and the patriarch Deve Gowda himself is looking a little bit lost in the unfamiliar territory of Tumakuru, which incidentally, the JD(S) has never won.
Woes of the Congress
The Congress, having sacrificed Muddahanume Gowda, a winning candidate from Tumakuru to accommodate Deve Gowda, has five seats at stake in this phase, none more important than Mysuru, which is a prestigious fight for Siddaramaiah to retain his own political base. CH Vijayashankar, a fellow Kuruba, is pitted against sitting BJP candidate Pratap Simha, who has both his caste and the ‘Modi factor’ working in his favour.
In the neighbouring Chamarajanagar, 72-year-old, five-time MP Srinivasa Prasad has been persuaded by the BJP to return from retirement and take on Dhruvanarayan of the Congress, who was looking for a hat-trick of wins. In Kolar, KH Muniyappa of the Congress appears poised for the eighth straight victory as the BJP, in a surprise move, put up a weak and little known Muniswamy against him.
In Chikkaballapur, former chief minister Veerappa Moily appears to be fighting a losing battle against BN Bacche Gowda of the BJP, whom he had defeated by around 9,000 votes in 2014. Last time, Kumaraswamy of the JD(S) being the third candidate in the fray, had helped Moily sail through by garnering 1.5 lakh votes, but now, Moily has the ‘disadvantage’ of facing Bacche Gowda, riding on public sympathy, in a direct fight. Moily also faces people’s anger for failing to make Yettinahole drinking water scheme a reality.
In Bangalore Rural, DK Suresh, brother of Congress strongman DK Shivakumar, is poised to retain his seat with little difficulty, while in the three metropolitan constituencies – Bangalore South, Bangalore North and Bangalore Central – the BJP candidates are hoping to ride largely on the ‘Modi factor’ to emerge victorious.
Union minister Sadananda Gowda, who had won by a margin of 2.29 lakh in 2014, is facing a stiff challenge from state minister Krishna Byre Gowda in Bangalore North; in Bangalore Central, PC Mohan is taking on Rizwan Arshad to try and complete a hat-trick of wins, while actor Prakash Raj as an independent candidate, is trying to woo voters with his brand of ‘alternative politics'.
BJP caused a needless controversy about the candidate for Bangalore South, represented by late Ananth Kumar for six consecutive terms and considered an impregnable fortress of the BJP. Ananth Kumar’s wife Tejaswini, assured by local leaders as the party’s ‘natural choice’, had begun campaigning for nearly two months when, on the last day of filing nominations, the BJP leaders sprang a surprise by naming an unknown Tejaswi Surya as the candidate, leading to a mini-revolt by the state BJP.
The 28-year-old Surya, an articulate ‘prodigy’ of the RSS camp, was soon engulfed in a sexual abuse allegation appearing on social media. With the local leaders keeping away from Surya’s campaigning, BJP chief Amit Shah had to rush to Bengaluru to hold a road show and convince everyone that the party had chosen to groom Surya as a future leader with whom they should all cooperate. Surya is pitting against Congress veteran BK Hariprasad, and it will be interesting to see whether the Congress can snatch this seat from the BJP after nearly four decades.
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Updated Date: Apr 17, 2019 21:04:22 IST