Waveless poll makes Congress realistic on numbers

Bangalore, April 27 (IANS) The May 5 Karnataka assembly poll is turning out to be unique with no wave in favour of any party fighting the BJP, though its maiden rule in the state has become synonymous with corruption and infighting, providing three chief ministers in a little over four years.

The Congress, though confident of recapturing power in the state after seven years, no longer talks of a wave for it and is realistic on the number of seats it will bag in the 225-member assembly.

"We will win 125 to 130 seats," is the refrain of the state Congress party unit chief G. Parameshwara.

That is just 12 to 17 seats more than the 113 required for majority in the house, which is made up of 224 elected members and one nominated to represent the Anglo-Indian community. Interestingly, a CNN-IBN poll Thursday gave the Congress 117-129 seats and a mere 39-49 to the BJP.

The sober mood in the Congress was reflected Wednesday by Defence Minister A.K. Antony, who heads the party's coordination committee for the poll.

"My feedback is that we can form our own government in the state," Antony said in Bangalore while releasing the Congress manifesto for the poll.

This assessment stems from the realization that the electorate's anger against the BJP will not necessarily translate into a massive vote for Congress as both parties are in the same boat in matters of corruption and infighting.

The Karnataka poll is a sort of battle of corruptions, at the national level under the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and the BJP regime at the state level.

As far as infighting goes, the BJP, or whatever is left of it after its scandal-hit former leader B.S. Yeddyurappa and his supporters quit the party, is better off than the Congress in the state.

The Congress state unit continues to be plagued by disunity, with former chief minister and former external affairs minister S.M. Krishna sulking and chief ministerial aspirants more interested in ensuring their followers victory to consolidate their claim to the post.

Krishna, after keeping the party on tenterhooks for several days, has begun to campaign.

However, he makes sure to send clear messages to the party that he is unhappy at being ignored in selection of candidates, particularly in areas where he believes he still has strong influence, like his home district Mandya, about 80km from Bangalore.

He stayed away from Wednesday's manifesto release, forcing Antony, former central minister Ambika Soni and other leaders to go to his residence in upscale Sadashivanagar in north-east Bangalore to plead with him to continue to campaign for the party.

The Congress also knows that the state's political landscape has changed for the worse with caste polarization getting sharper and Yeddyurappa's Karnataka Janata Party (KJP) joining the fight for the spoils.

The battle is also not evenly spread across the state and even a slight miscalculation in selecting candidates or in the campaign can affect victory prospects.

In north and central Karnataka, it will be a three-cornered fight between the Congress, BJP and KJP; in coastal Karnataka it is Congress versus BJP and in the south, it is a battle between the Congress and the Janata Dal-Secular.

The presence of the KJP is expected to help the Congress, though the BJP is trying to embarrass both Yeddyurappa and the Congress over that party's formation.

The BJP refrain is that Yeddyurappa formed the party at the behest of Congress in return for keeping the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) off his back.

Adding to these headaches is the burden the Congress carries by making the Karnataka poll a must-win case to boost its sagging morale ahead of several assembly elections in the north and the Lok Sabha poll next May.

In contrast, for the BJP it is a case of "victory is welcome but defeat is not much of a loss" as the party is more interested in returning to power in New Delhi, for which its focus remains firmly on the northern states.

Karnataka has 28 Lok Sabha seats and the maximum the BJP has won so far is 19 in 2009.

As BJP Lok Sabha member from Bangalore North D.B. Chandre Gowda put it recently, completing a full five-year term in Karnataka was itself a major achievement for his party. Hence the Congress, and not the BJP, has much to lose if it does not win the May 5 poll by a comfortable margin.

A small consolation for BJP, after bringing a bad name to itself and to Karnataka.

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

Matches