Karnataka election: Spoiler alert!

The Congress’ confidence has little or nothing to do with its track record in Karnataka and everything to do with the BJP’s pathetic performance

The Congress appears confident of coming to power in Karnataka where Assembly elections will take place on May 5. This is arguably the only state in the country where the country’s “grand old party” is hopeful of increasing its number of MPs by more than 10 when the 16th general elections are conducted.

The confidence exuded by the Congress has little or nothing to do with the party’s track record in the state and everything to do with the pathetic performance of the country’s biggest Opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been in power in Karnataka for the last five years. The anticipated victory of the Congress in the state will surely boost the sagging morale of the party even as the United Progressive Alliance government in New Delhi bungles from one crisis to the next one.
In May 2009, the BJP had won a whopping 18 out of the total of 28 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka, leaving eight for the Congress and two for Janata Dal (Secular). Exactly a year earlier, in May 2008, Karnataka became the first state in southern India in which the BJP was able to form a government on its own after the party won 110 out of the 224 seats in the Assembly and, thereafter, obtained a majority by receiving the support of six independent MLAs. Before May 2008, the BJP had been a partner of the JD(S) in an unstable government.
The 2004 Assembly elections in Karnataka yielded a very unusual outcome with no party in a majority. Out of 224 seats, the BJP won 79, the Congress 65 and the JD(S) 58. The BJP and the Congress, the two largest parties in the Assembly, could not have come together to form a coalition government since they were staunch political opponents. The head of the JD(S), former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, and his son H.D. Kumaraswamy decided to partner the Congress to keep the BJP out of the government. The coalition headed by chief minister N. Dharam Singh lasted for barely two years. Then, Mr Kumaraswamy ditched the Congress and struck a deal with the BJP led by B.S. Yeddyurappa to form a government in which he was the chief minister and the BJP leader his deputy.
Before forming the government, the two parties agreed to share the post of chief minister for 20 months each. But this uneasy arrangement failed. A “great betrayal” by Mr Kumaraswamy ensured that
Mr Yeddyurappa could not remain in the post of chief minister for even a week. This prepared the ground for the BJP to generate a certain amount of sympathy and the BJP appealed to the voters of the state to give the BJP “one chance” to govern. And sure enough, this is exactly what happened after Karnataka had gone through a unique political phase in which leaders of three different political parties headed the state government in Bengaluru with no elections in-between.
But the performance of Mr Yeddyurappa’s government was pretty disastrous, to say the least. In less than three years, it was rocked by a series of scandals and allegations relating to its ministers masterminding illegal iron ore mining in the district of Bellary and conniving in various dubious land deals. State Lokayukta Justice N. Santosh Hegde’s reports meticulously documented how the chief minister’s family members acquired tracts of land and properties with the help of mining companies and how he turned a blind eye to the activities of the Reddy brothers and their associates who were involved in illegal mining. Gali Janardhan Reddy, former minister for infrastructure, tourism and youth affairs in
Mr Yeddyurappa’s government, was at the forefront of illegal iron ore mining in Bellary.
It was small consolation to Mr Yeddyurappa that Justice Hegde’s reports were also highly critical of Congress Rajya Sabha MP Anil Lad, and Mr Kumaraswamy. For the BJP as well, there was little comfort in the fact that the political influence of the infamous Reddy brothers of Bellary went beyond their own party to the Congress — they are close to Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, MP from Kadapa in Andhra Pradesh, son of late Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh and the richest MP in the country in terms of declared assets. By the middle of 2011, the biggest mentor of the Reddy brothers, Sushma Swaraj, leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, had deserted them.
Justice Hegde’s reports were so scathing in their indictment of the Karnataka government that the BJP leadership in Delhi was left with no choice but to sack Mr Yeddyurappa on July 31, 2011. On September 5 that year, the CBI arrested Mr Janardhan Reddy. He was lodged in Chanchalguda jail, Hyderabad, where he remains till today (he was moved to a jail in Bengaluru in-between) together with two judges who were caught red-handed allegedly receiving bribes on his behalf, besides, of course,
Mr Jagan Reddy, who has allegedly acquired assets disproportionate to known sources of income.
More than anything else, the brazen corruption and misrule of the BJP government has made the prospects of a Congress victory in the Assembly elections rather bright. Despite intense infighting and factionalism along caste lines, what is likely to ensure a sweeping victory for the Congress in Karnataka is the determination of Mr Yeddyurappa and his political outfit, the Karnataka Janata Party, to play spoiler. The writing on the wall became clear when the BJP was humbled in the elections to urban local bodies in the state. While there are numerous contenders for the top job in Bengaluru, there are indications that Congress president Sonia Gandhi may prefer senior party leader Siddaramaiah to head a Congress government in Karnataka.

The writer is an educator and commentator

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