Pre-Poll Dynamics in Karnataka

Assembly elections are round the corner and the fever is fast picking up in Karnataka. Election Commission is keen on holding elections in May while political parties are busy formulating strategies to deal with the deadlock in the state politics that produced a hung verdict in last elections.

Most active among all parties, as on date, is the BJP that is prepared to put everything at stake to gain electoral victory this time. Yediyurappa, the Chief Ministerial candidate of the BJP is trying to play all possible cards –communal, nationality, caste... BJP’s desperation was amply evident when Yediyurappa crossed borders to reach Tamil Nadu to stake claim on Hogenakal in order to flare up passions to their own electoral advantage. Recently, Sangh Parivar re-attacked the publication office of the magazine, ‘Karavale Ale’ in order to whip up and to keep alive communal passions. BJP is on struggle mode against the Governor, deeming him a representative of the Congress. BJP did not leave out even pensioners, in its attempt to mobilise all walks of life, and marched to Raj Bhavan raising issues of ‘Sandhya Suraksha (Old age Security) Scheme’ and of BPL. The BJP is banking upon its last budget promises, with Yediyurappa as the Finance Minister, where it reduced rate of interest of farm loans to 4% and announced a loan waiver to the tune of 2500 crores. BJP is projecting Modi as a potent symbol for their politics in Karnataka. The BJP is heavily banking upon a well articulated ‘sympathy wave’ against the ‘betrayal’ by the JD(S). Consolidation of the ‘Lingayat’ base, expansion among Vokkaligas, making effective political use of nationality, caste and communal passions – are the strategy of the BJP. Overall, the BJP is in an aggressive and combative mood to tilt the balance in its favour.

The Congress is dreaming of a master stroke by bringing in the former Chief Minister of Karnataka S M Krishna, darling of IT sharks, as an antidote to Deve Gowda and to rejuvenate the party in the State. S M Krishna had to sacrifice his post of Governor in order to give a fresh lease of life to the Congress in Karnataka. But, on the contrary, whether the entry of the so-called saviour, S M Krishna has lent any fresh life to the party or not, it has definitely given a new lease of life to the characteristic factionalism of the Congress that was hitherto dormant. While the erstwhile state leadership has rallied behind the present state president Mallikarjun Kharge, the Vokkaliga faction of the Mysore-Mandya region is enthusiastically backing the entry of S M Krishna. It is true that the Congress has partially succeeded in roping in so-called secular stalwart M P Prakash, the Lingayat heavyweight of Central Karnataka and Siddaramaiah, the MBC representative of the Mysore region by splitting the JD(S). Still, the electoral matrix and advantages are yet to be proven. If the former JD(S) leaders choose to function as a separate bloc within the Congress, their electoral fortunes are sure to dwindle. The Congress has come up with a compromise formula by forming three different committees – an Election Committee headed by Mallikarjun Kharge, Election Campaign Committee headed by Siddaramaiah and an Election Management and Coordination Committee headed by SM.Krishna – and has tried to put Krishna in command while Kharge is pleading to keep himself out of any committee under Krishna. Factionalism assumed serious proportions when the ‘Road Show’ planned by the Krishna faction was disowned by the state leadership. The strategy of the Congress is to consolidate the Vokkaliga social base by fielding a modern representative of the same caste, Krishna, against the conservative representative, ‘Mannina Maga’ (son of the soil) Deve Gowda and H D Kumaraswamy. Similar attempts in the past proved advantageous in the first phase when Congress won with Krishna as the CM. The same strategy proved futile in the last elections in the face of people’s resentment against policies of globalisation. It remains to be seen if repeating the same old strategy in this phase can also bail the Congress out of the crisis. The Congress is also relying heavily on loan waivers announced in the central budget in order to win over the farming community.

Karnataka has witnessed the Congress emerging victorious whenever it could successfully put together a social coalition of dalits, minorities and backwards including Vokkaligas and sections of Lingayats. The Congress is dreaming of the same in this election as well. Its calculation is that minorities will necessarily have to back the Congress in order to defeat the BJP. They are also hopeful of winning over a large Lingayat base with the help of M P Prakash and Dharam Singh. Siddaramaiah, former deputy CM in the JD(S)-BJP ministry, is considered to be instrumental in winning over MBCs while dalits are expected to rally around Kharge.

But, the reality does not conform to the caste based analysis. Other castes, barring minorities, are highly heterogeneous in nature and caste-based election predictions and results have never been very accurate because political and class stratifications are assuming much wider dimensions among these castes. The voting pattern in the state has not corroborated the much acclaimed ‘social engineering’ that can consolidate caste as a single unit.

This time round, the BSP is also highly hopeful of gaining a larger share of dalit votes in the backdrop of the ‘Sarvajan’ formula being adopted by the ‘Bahujan’ party. In fact, the BSP can, at best, split votes of dalits, who are considered to be a traditional vote bank of the Congress. The potential of the BSP playing spoilsport and upsetting all calculations of the Congress in favour of BJP also cannot be ruled out.

The JD(S) is heavily dependent on its politics of populism practised in its 20-months tenure in power. Distribution of cycles to students, village darshans of Kumaraswamy, ban on lottery and arrack, etc., are points the JD(S) is banking on. Moral scruples like ‘betrayal to BJP’ in the last term can also be a negative factor among the middle class. But, bourgeois politics, after all, is an art of betrayal and the people are not innocents to forget it. JD(S) may not be in a position to win over minorities and the secular voters despite trying hard to convince the people of its secular credentials. The track record of JD(S)’ unprincipled alliance with the BJP in its greed for power is obvious even to a lay observer. In fact, the JD(S) shared power with the BJP at a time when the latter was busy orchestrating attacks on minorities in Bangalore and Mangalore, fanning up communal flames over Baba Budanagiri, and saffronising text books. The JD(S)-BJP regime became infamous for charges of rampant corruption in which the Chief Minister himself and his family were involved. JD(S)-BJP rule displayed the worst competition among coalition partners to win over the affinity of mining mafia in Bellary region. The JD(S) suffered losses because of its opportunistic coalitions with both the Congress and the BJP. It is the opportunism of the JD(S) that made the BJP’s dream of installing first-ever government of Hindutva in the South a much more imminent possibility. Being more vulnerable in central and northern Karnataka, Deve Gowda is literally praying for luck in elections, and JD(S) party offices are turning into prayer halls!

Unfortunately, Left and democratic forces are not playing the necessary role expected of them in a situation of crisis. Neither the Left parties like CPI, CPI(M) nor the democratic forces like dalit and farmers organisations are playing their due role but for trailing behind this or that formation of the ruling class in order to secure few seats for themselves.

The Congress is also trying every possible means, at least, to neutralise Deve Gowda and the JD(S) politically. Recent FDI approval to the tune of 195 crores for M/s SKIL Infrastructure Ltd, who are the developers of the Nandagudi SEZ near Bangalore, has raised many eyebrows as they are believed to be a ‘benami’ front for the ‘Royal Gowdas’. There are also apprehensions that the Congress may use it as a leverage to neutralise ‘Royal Gowdas’. Anyway, Karnataka may not witness far reaching realignments in the pre-election scenario. But, surprising political realignments and coalitions cannot be ruled out if the elections produce a hung verdict like last elections which cannot be rejected altogether.

Such political calculations apart, the socio-economic situation in the state is turning from bad to worse. The rate of growth in agriculture has drastically declined to 0.61%. Farmers’ suicides continue unabated, in spite of much trumpeted competitive loan waivers by the state and the centre. Unemployment of the local population is growing, resulting in opposition to employment of non-Kannadigas in the state. Kannada chauvinism, despite being on the fringes, is increasing as a fallout of globalisation and of the visible display of growing disparity in the state, particularly in Bangalore. Ecologically damaging huge projects like Chamalapura and Tadadi thermal plants which cause large-scale displacement are on, in spite of huge resistance from the people. Tens of thousands of acres of lands are being offered in the name of SEZs - like Nandagudi, Koppal, Mangalore SEZs - on a platter to corporate houses and multinationals. Mining and real estate mafias are gaining a political upper hand and are striving to play a decisive role in the state politics. The IT industry is also striving to have a definite share in governance in order to maintain its profit margins. State repression is also increasing manifold in various spheres and areas in the name of containing Maoists. People’s resentment is growing on issues of fake BPL cards being enjoyed by the rich while the really poor and needy are denied the same. NREGS is only a mirage that cannot provide sufficient employment or the constitutionally stipulated wages. In many cases, contractors are grabbing a larger share of funds allotted for the employment of agricultural labourers. ‘Ashraya Manegalu’ (Free housing scheme) too benefits only those who are close to the forces in power. Panchayati Raj system is effectively used to benefit vested interests and corruption is rampant.

But, no party in the fray has any vision, programme or agenda for the welfare of the people and to solve the real issues confronting broad masses.

Left and democratic forces in the state should utilise the occasion of elections to push through the people’s agenda forward against the agenda of the powers that be. Defeating the BJP and the Congress and exposing the JD(S) should be made the central plank of the election campaign.


    • CPI(ML) is engaged in organizing rural poor in Northern and Southern Karnataka while organizing the working class in Bangalore. AICCTU is active in organising the unorganised workers of Bellary, Davanagere, Koppal and Mysore districts.

As a part of such an effort, the Gangavati taluk conference of AICCTU was held on 9 March which was preceded by an impressive rally of unorganized workers, including auto-technicians, construction labour, brick-kiln workers, tractor drivers and various types of rural workers.

The rally culminated in a convention chaired by Comrade Uma Shankar, taluk president of AICCTU and addressed by Com. J Bharadwaj, SLT member of the party, Basavaraju, VP of AIALA, Vittapura, Convener of Koppal Zilla Bachao Andolana (against the SEZ in Koppal) and Advocate Hasmuddin. V Shankar, CCM, delivered the concluding address. The conference elected a 21-member working committee.

On March 18, a Dharna was organized in front of taluk office of Harappanahalli in Davanagere district. The protestors demanded patta for ‘Bagaihukum’ lands under possession of peasants and basic amenities. Comrade Ramappa, secretary of CPI(ML) in Karnataka addressed the gathering.

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