Karnataka Assembly Elections - 2008

If criminalisation of politics was the hallmark of polls in many states in north India, rampant corruption and subdued political campaign marred the recently concluded Assembly elections in Karnataka. Much was made of EC restrictions in these elections. The fact is that the EC did not seek beyond legal declarations by parties, and the scale and magnitude of attempts to corrupt the public was unprecedented. Even for the voters, it was so indigestible that many villagers registered indigenous, self-styled forms of protest. Some of them barred the distribution of money to individual voters and, instead, found some public projects, like temples, schools, etc., to be funded.

While the EC maintained silence on the free flow of crores of rupees and liquor, the political campaign and the battle of ideas that used to be a general phenomenon in the earlier elections were a casualty of EC restrictions. May Day celebrations were virtually banned in the name of being ‘misused’ in favour of elections. Whatever campaign was on was only through print and electronic media where many candidates were denied chances while bourgeois parties either owned or bought some newspapers and television channels themselves. With such restrictions, parties that circumvent the essence of democratic process flourish while parties that go by democratic norms are not provided a level playing field. The Left, small parties and independents, bore the brunt of EC restrictions.

BJP was desperate for victory, fearing that failure might impact badly on the party’s electoral prospects nationally. In fact, BJP may never again get a more favourable turf in Karnataka than it has enjoyed in the 2008 elections. BJP was advocating the ‘Gujarat’ model in Karnataka. More than Advani and other national leaders of their party, ‘fascist poster-boy’ Modi was the chief campaigner for the party. BJP got a boost through some exit poll survey in the first phase of elections and made a mid-way correction in their poll plank of terrorism and price rise. Hoping to come to power, the party assured ‘stability’ to the electorate in the third phase. The party that claimed once to be a ‘puritan’ and ‘value based’ has fielded many candidates with criminal background and also many ‘crorepatis’. The accusation of BJP being under the grip of mining mafia in the state was further corroborated by the fact that many mafias themselves were their candidates, particularly in Bellary – Davanagere region. Of course, Congress was no less pro-mafia. In one seat in Bellary, candidates of both BJP and Congress were from the mining mafia.

Almost all heavyweights of all major parties were campaigning in Karnataka as the stakes were too high. The Congress wanted to win elections somehow in order to offset the adverse impact of recent assembly elections in the North. It also considered this election to be a trial-run for the Lok Sabha elections. Karnataka was also a testing ground for Rahul Gandhi’s popularity, with Rahul Gandhi, the ‘would-be PM’ of the Congress, beginning his Yatra from Karnataka. Apart from boasting on their ‘achievements’ of NREGA and 60000 crore loan waiver, Congress also focused on five points that are supposed to be ‘embodied’ in the five fingers of their party symbol, i.e., 25 kg rice at Rs.2/ a kg and free television sets to all BPL population, 35 lakh houses, 3% interest for farm loans, Rs.1500 for skill development for youth. Stability and development was their main poll plank.

The Deve Gowda-led JD(S), in spite of its frantic efforts to convince voters of its winnability, has resigned itself to an ‘honourable’ position of a ‘king maker’. In fact, BSP also claimed the same position and Mayawati said that the BSP’s aim was not merely to play the role of a ‘spoil-sport’ to this or that party but to achieve its ambition of coming to power.

Unfortunately, the official Left displayed its characteristic ‘tailism’ and ‘opportunism’ in elections in spite of its claim of an ‘independent’ contest. The so-called Left and democratic platform that included CPI, some farmers’ groups and dalit organizations unilaterally extended support to Congress in the name of defeating BJP, while the CPI(M) extended selective, district-level support to both the JD(S) and the Congress in various places. One of the ‘Maoist’ splinter groups too joined the bandwagon by releasing a manifesto targeting only the communal BJP while not uttering a single political comment against the Congress or the JD(S). While we welcomed their attempt at political intervention, that was a definite break from their ‘Maoist’ past, it was clear that this group too was following the tailist line.

CPI(ML) identified BJP as the No.1 danger to the people of the state. We exposed BJP’s strategy of creating religious and linguistic strife to gain votes. BJP’s attempt to make Baba Budanagere another Ayodhya in order to rip apart the secular fabric of Karnataka society, intolerance towards differing opinions, using state machinery and Sangh Parivar cadres to attack minorities, brutal violations of human rights in the name of repressing Naxalites, etc., were the hallmarks of the BJP in the recent period. BJP harped on ‘development’ - but in reality it was least interested in development for the people: rather, it was willing to plunge the State in strife and bloodshed in order to further its own ‘development’ as a party! For BJP, Karnataka may be a laboratory to enter the South but the cruel reality is that the people are their guinea pigs.

Our campaign also emphasized that the Congress was also no less anti-people. The Congress was responsible for the Bangalore-centric, distorted and retarded development in the state. Despite being in power in centre and in the state for so long, Congress has resorted to the same anti-people development strategy that is pro-corporate houses, pro-multinationals and kulaks. The working class, unorganized and organized, small and marginal farmers, poor and the downtrodden are the lot who are left out of the whole development process. In fact, in the era of globalization, these are the people who are the worst affected. In spite of facing defeat in last elections, the Congress was articulating same policies, merely adding some gimmicks of cheaper rice, free television, loan waiver, etc.

Our campaign exposed the JD(S) that was responsible for all anti-farmer initiatives of the government. It was trying to steal the show projecting itself as the champion of farmers and rural masses. But, they have done nothing for the rural poor when they were in power except for the drama of visiting villages and staying overnight. Free cycles and few other freebies of their period did not cut much ice among common people.

It is in this backdrop that the CPI(ML) fought the battle with its own manifesto of Peoples’ Agenda. We called upon the people to defeat both the communal BJP and the anti-people Congress. We exposed the anti-farmer and opportunist JD(S).

Karnataka State unit of the party fielded candidates in six assembly seats. This is the first time, the party fielded candidates in six seats, four seats in Davangere district and two seats in Koppal district, compared to two seats in the entire state in last elections in 2004. In Harapanahalli, campaign was on in full swing since the allotment of our party symbol. The main event of the whole campaign was organized on 12 May when we went on a Padayatra and procession with more than 150 people, two bullock carts, a propaganda auto and a car, with campaigners playing traditional and modern drums. The procession travelled through nook and corners of Harapanahalli town covering around 15 KMs, including the main road of the town. A bullock cart, carrying the candidate E Ramappa, was completely covered with red cloth and the party’s election ‘Three Star Flags’. Activists wearing red shawls and bearing flags added colour and vigour to the whole campaign while drums drew out the people who were sitting indoors to avoid the scorching sun. The appearance of the procession was consciously planned in order to distinguish our party from candidates and campaigners from other parties who were always circling the air with helicopters. In Gangavati, the party organized a padayatra on 13 May covering the main roads of the town that adjoin the heritage centre, Hampi. This followed door-to-door canvassing that went on for more than 10 days in adjoining rural areas of the constituency. In spite of a busy election schedule, our party and the candidate did not stay away from struggles. Comrade Bharadwaj, member of Karnataka SLT and Surya Prakash, Taluk Secretary of the party were arrested on 7 May for protesting against the Bhoomi Puja by a company called MSPL in one of the SEZs in Koppal in Karnataka district. The company has launched an SEZ in 1140 acres that includes a lake spread around 40 acres. Comrade Vittappa and Sandhya of Koppal Zilla Bachao Andolan, Poojary of CPI(ML) (Kanu Sanyal) were also arrested along with affected protesting farmers.

In Kanakagiri, the local administration and the police were creating maximum possible disturbance against our smooth campaign. First, some false cases were filed against the candidate and then, the Chief Election Agent, who was cleared of many other cases when he was active in some dalit organization, was issued summons on some false grounds, etc. Still, comrades continued the campaign against all odds.

In Jagalur and Harihar, our comrades were on a continuous padayatra covering all rural areas, propagating the party policies while seeking votes.

Mayakonda was a new constituency where we fielded a candidate from the angle of expansion, and an enthusiastic campaign was carried out. In Kudligi constituency that falls under Bellary district, the Returning Officer was so biased against our party that he acted unilaterally to refuse to allot our party symbol and to make the party candidate an independent in spite of submitting A-B forms. The party complained to observers and the DC but in vain.

-- V Shankar

Names of constituencies and candidates of CPI(ML) in Karnataka:

Harapanahalli (Davanagere) ----------- E Ramappa, State Secretary

Gangawati (Koppal) ----------- J Bharadwaj, State President, AIALA

Kanakagiri (Koppal) ----------- Mareppa

Jagalur (Davanagere) ----------- Chowdappa

Harihar (Davanagere) ----------- Basavaraja

Mayakonda (Davanagere) ----------- Hanumanthappa

Liberation Archive