Cohesion on ground holds key to Cong-JD(S) performance in Karnataka

Both Deve Gowda and Siddaramaiah have put up a united face to convince the rank and file of both parties to co-operate on the ground.

The first phase of voting in Karnataka for 14 Lok Sabha seats is crucial in more ways than one. It does not just test the efficacy of the Congress-Janata Dal(S) alliance but will also decide the future of Gowda’s GenX in politics.

The 14 seats in the mostly southern and coastal regions are exactly half of the total 28 in the state.  Though equal in terms of numbers the political significance of the constituencies going to polls in Karnataka’s first phase on May 18 outweighs that of the state’s second phase for the remaining seats on May 23.

Of the 14 going for polling on Thursday, as of now six each are held by the Congress and the BJP while two are held by the JD(S)

For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) too, the first phase of polling is crucial as it seeks to retain its pocket borough Bangalore South after the death in harness of Ananthkumar, its high-profile MP from that constituency.

In addition, two other constituencies where the BJP is the favourite on paper – Dakshina Kannada and Udupi-Chikmagalur – have seen internal turbulence on the selection of its sitting candidates.  Whether it will be able to stave off a combined Congress-JD(S) challenge will be keenly watched.

Disunity on ground

The most interesting is the durability and functionality of the ruling Congress-JD(S) coalition.  Intense rivals until recently, the leadership of both parties has reconciled to a tactical friendship.  But they have faced deep resistance on the ground with workers who for decades fought against each other suddenly having to embrace one another.

Congress ex-chief minister Siddaramaiah and his mentor former prime minister H D Deve Gowda have publicly conducted joint meetings and have attempted to explain their alliance to the people and to their party workers.  Whether the reconciliation will work or not will be put to test on voting day.

The outcome on May 23 is likely to have long-term repercussions for the state’s politics and possibly for the Centre as well.

Gowda’s clan in fray

If Tumkur is a key constituency since the 85-year-old Gowda, after hesitating and keeping everyone guessing over his candidature, is contesting from here, the more keenly watched ones are Mandya and Hassan where his grandsons Nikhil and Prajwal are making their debut.

While Hassan seems easier, Mandya has turned into a hotbed of uncertainty for Nikhil as he is up against Sumalatha, the wife of the late film star and Congress MP Ambareesh.  Nikhil’s father, chief minister H D Kumaraswamy insisted on the seat despite the sympathy factor for Sumalatha following the death of her husband.  The Congress reluctantly agreed, but on the ground the party is divided and workers are reportedly rebelling against their leadership’s decision. So Nikhil is on a sticky wicket.

Dissension in BJP

For the BJP, Bangalore South was a constituency it could take for granted. Again, the party’s supporters and legislators expected the B-form for Ananthkumar’s wife Tejaswini.  But the leadership produced an unknown youngster Tejaswi Surya, a lawyer with a strong RSS background as the candidate.  Whether the BJP has succeeded in dousing resentment against this decision will be seen on Thursday.  The opponent is an experienced Congress Rajya Sabha MP and a well-known Bangalorean B K Hariprasad.

Similarly, there were reports of dissidence within the BJP ranks in the coastal region constituencies of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi-Chikmagalur where its sitting MPs Nalin Kumar Kateel and Shobha Karandlaje were believed to be in danger of losing their tickets.  But the party renominated both.  Whether the grassroots resistance against their renomination was real or something that got more media space than it deserved will be decided on April 18.

Which way will urban Bengaluru sway?

Besides Bangalore south, the other two urban segments of Bangalore – Central and North – too have sitting BJP MPs.  Union Minister Sadananda Gowda is facing a stiff fight from the articulate and suave Congress state minister Krishna Byre Gowda in Bangalore North.

In Bangalore Central, the well-known actor Prakash Raj, a family friend of the assassinated journalist Gauri Lankesh and a powerful opponent of the Sangh Parivar is contesting as an independent.  While he is hoping to secure the anti-BJP votes based on his ideological position, it could skew the chances of the Congress candidate Rizwan Arshad fighting sitting BJP MP P C Mohan.

Bangalore Rural is reportedly among the safe seats for the sitting Congress MP D K Suresh, brother of the powerful state minister D K Shivakumar.  But it may not be that easy for the Congress in Kolar and Chikballapur due to a perceived anti-incumbency against former union ministers K H Muniyappa and Veerappa Moily. This could be neutralised if the alliance with the JD(S) works.

Mysore is seen as a personal fight for Siddaramaiah as he is from there.  Outspoken journalist Pratap Simha of the BJP caused an upset in 2014 and this time the Congress along with the JD(S) is particularly keen on taking it back.