Undue dependence on central leaders brings skewed importance to Karnataka assembly poll (Karnataka Newsletter)

Bangalore, April 6 (IANS) Karnataka’s ruling BJP and its main rival Congress go to the May 5 state assembly poll on a level playing field on one major count – both are banking on their national leaders to win.

The Congress’ star campaigners would be party president Sonia Gandhi and her son and newly elevated party vice president Rahul Gandhi, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and several union ministers, particularly from Karnataka’s neighbouring states, contributing their mite.

The Congress chief ministers of Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Maharasthra might also be roped in as Karnataka has been home to a large number of Malayalam, Telugu, Tamil and Marathi speakers for generations.

For the Bharatiya Janata Party, president Rajnath Singh and senior leaders L.K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley would lead the battle.

The BJP’s Karantaka unit, however, gives the impression that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi would be its star campaigner.

This dependency, coupled with the fact that Lok Sabha elections are due in a year, has given the Karnataka assembly poll skewed importance this time. The state has generally been treated as an also ran by political parties as far as the Lok Sabha polls are concerned because it sends only 28 representatives to the house.

Apart from the small number of seats, the domination of the Congress for decades also diminished Karnataka’s importance for national politics as compared to the attention its neighbours – Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala – attract during both state and Lok Sabha polls.

Kerala, which has only 10 Lok Sabha seats, always catches the national imagination because of the deep polarisation of voters between its two fronts, one led by the Congress and the other by the Communist Party of India-Marxist.

In the 1980s, the Janata Dal emerged as a force and even formed the government (1983-88) but it has seen a steady decline following several splits, leaving the field open for the BJP to occupy that space.

However, even the last assembly poll five years ago which brought the BJP to power for the first time in Karnataka and southern India had not kindled the frenzied debate in the country that the present poll has unleashed.

The debate, though there is a strong doubt about how justified or relevant it is, stems from attempts to see the assembly polls as a possible ground for a Rahul Gandhi versus Narendra Modi battle ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

The doubt seems justified as the BJP has been scoring self-goals and its ministers and legislators continue to desert it to join hands with its former leader B.S. Yeddyurappa.

On April 4, a day ahead of the BJP parliamentary board meeting in New Delhi to finalise the first list of nominees, three legislators quit the party, one minister said he would do so in a day or two, and another minister has been keeping the party on tenterhooks.

The exodus is a clear indication that increasingly not many are ready to believe in the BJP itself that the party has a chance to retain power in the May 5 polls.

In contrast, the Congress is gung-ho about wresting power from the BJP, particularly after its impressive performance in last month’s municipal polls.

Of course the Congress can still mess up its prospects by wrong selection of candidates, ineffective handling of possible trouble from those denied tickets and leaders sulking over their kin not being fielded.

But, a month ahead of balloting, the general belief not only in Karnataka but in other places of the country also seems to be that the BJP will lose and deserves to do so.

Given that mood, the Congress and the BJP depending on their central leaders and the importance being given to the Karnataka poll in some quarters seems misplaced.

(V.S. Karnic can be contacted at [email protected])

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