No relief from instability in Karnataka next year

Bangalore, Dec 31 (IANS) People of Karnataka enter the New Year dreading the prospect of a split verdict in the assembly polls due in May, with major contenders for power yet to put their houses in order.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will face the polls battling corruption while main rival Congress is in no better position. It will have to bear the burden of the scam allegations on the central government it leads.

Carrying the baggage, both the parties face an uphill task in getting a majority in the 225-member assembly, of which 224 are elected and one is nominated from the Anglo-Indian community.

Both the parties also dread the prospect of the Janata Dal-Secular (JDS) - headed by former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda - cornering a significant number of seats since they have had a bitter experience of running a coalition government with JDS between 2004 and 2008.

Winning around 50 seats in the 2004 polls, JDS first formed a coalition with the Congress which had bagged 69 seats to keep, as the party claimed, the "communal" BJP away.

The BJP was the single-largest party with 79 seats.

But in 2006, Gowda's son H.D. Kumaraswamy led over 40 JDS assembly members to align with the BJP with himself as chief minister. The arrangement collapsed in late 2007 as he did not vacate the chair for Yeddyurappa as agreed at the time of forging the alliance.

The tenuous explanation given by Gowda and Kumaraswamy for going with the "communal BJP" was that the Congress was trying to split JDS!

Aiding the uncertainty of a clear verdict in the coming polls is the entry of two new outfits -- Karnataka Janata Party (KJP) led by the BJP's first chief minister in the state, B.S. Yeddyurappa, and the BSR Congress floated by B. Sriramulu, a former BJP minister and loyalist of jailed mining magnate G. Janardhana Reddy.

The state seems set for a multi-cornered contest with all five parties -- BJP, Congress, JDS, KJP and BSR Congress - asserting that they would go it alone and field nominees in all 224 constituencies.

An unsavoury feature of the polls would be the three parties led by people fighting corruption cases -- Yeddyurappa of KJP, Kumaraswamy of JDS and K.S. Eshwarappa of BJP.

Kumaraswamy is president of the JDS Karnataka unit while Eshwarappa heads the BJP state unit.

Apart from the scores of scandals that have marred the BJP's first stint in power in the state, the party's prospects of retaining power have been hit by Yeddyurappa's decision to quit and lead KJP.

Though fighting over a dozen corruption cases, his campaign platform is that he is a "victim of conspiracy by several state and central BJP leaders in collusion with Congress and JDS".

Yeddyurappa's campaign might not win many seats but would definitely work against the BJP as the party had allowed him a free run in party affairs even after it forced him to give up the chief minister's post in July 2011 over mining bribery charges.

The explanation it has started offering to the voters is that Yeddyurappa "enjoyed the benefits of power" because of the party and "is paying for his mistakes".

With no popular state leader, the BJP is planning to rope in Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi for campaigning, though he did not make any impact on the few seats he campaigned for in the 2008 polls.

The Congress too suffers from lack of a leader popular in all regions. Hence, like BJP, it is talking of facing the polls under "collective leadership".

The JDS has no such problems as its influence is still limited to southern districts and the words of Gowda and his sons, Kumaraswamy and former minister H.D. Revanna, are final.

The campaign of all contenders for power would be focussed more on the scams of each other with promises of better governance being an also ran, making it a difficult proposition for voters to decide who would put the state's development back on rails.

(V.S. Karnic can be contacted at vs.karnic@ians.in)

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