Karnataka tests Congress, BJP ahead of LS polls

Karnataka tests Congress, BJP ahead of LS polls

Farmers have become a critical vote bank for Narendra Modi. The prime minister wants to hold, at least, 100 farmer awareness rallies in the country before December to directly address the agriculturists.

Data analysis of the Karnataka assembly elections and Lok Sabha by-elections in Uttar Pradesh have spurred him to conduct these rallies. Three of them have been already held in Uttar Pradesh this month, following the BJP's humiliating defeat in rural parliamentary constituencies of Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Khairana in Uttar Pradesh. At present, on a three-nation tour of Africa, Modi will land in Delhi and head to Lucknow for his fourth rally of the month.

Interestingly, his choice of the next venue after Lucknow shows the seriousness of the BJP's concerns. Modi is likely to conduct his first rally in Karnataka, and the venue for the first rally is Chikodi in the northern part of the state, on the border of Maharashtra. The BJP's statistical unit which analysed the Karnataka assembly elections had found Chikodi was the only constituency where the BJP and Congress were neck to neck, with insignificant presence of Janata Dal (Secular), which is the alliance partner of Congress in the state. BJP and Congress won four each of the assembly constituencies in Chikodi. But the overall vote share of the BJP in the eight constituencies was 46.5 per cent, while Congress got 45.9 per cent. The JD(S) got just one per cent of the vote.

Modi has chosen a constituency with no presence of H D Kumaraswamy's party to send a message to the regional party that his main target is Congress. Chikodi has been an earlier epicentre of agitations by farmers growing tobacco and sugarcane, and it is an area where people speak Kannada, Marathi and Hindi. BJP leaders said the strong bipolar nature of Chikodi would make mobilisation a challenge, as the seat is held by Congress veteran Pakash Hukkeri, who is a formidable leader of farmers through his domination of cooperative societies.

Interestingly, the analysis has also shown that statistically the BJP, which had won 17 out of 28 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka 2014, will be vulnerable if Congress and JD(S) are able form an alliance for 2019 elections. In the recent assembly elections, BJP had a vote share of more than 50 per cent in three constituencies, and had more votes (but less than 50 per cent) over Congress-JD(S) in five more constituencies. But elections are also a matter of chemistry than mere arithmetic, but Modi has to better the numbers dramatically in the only stronghold of BJP in south India.

Realising the advantage of these numbers, the Congress high command has been briefed by state's in-charge general secretary K C Venugopal that the coalition government should be preserved and maintain an image of unity. But Venugopal is now giving tuition on coalition dharma and practices to both the Congress and JD(S) leaders in Karnataka. He has discovered that Kumaraswamy, who ran a coalition government with BJP from 2006 to 2008, is trying to function as a chief minister with full majority. Kumaraswamy wants to control posting of all senior officials as the Karnataka business rules authorise the chief minister to make appointments of IAS, IPS, Forest Service as well as state service officers. But Congress ministers, including deputy chief minister G Parameshwara, are demanding that they have a right to have the officers of their choice. When Parameswara wanted a plum post for one of his favourite officer, Kumaraswamy refused. To save his own face, Parameswara appointed the officer as secretary to the deputy chief minister and complained to Venugopal.

Now Venugopal has given instructions on how the coalition governments in Kerala, especially those of the UDF, have functioned on transfer of officers. He wants the cabinet to approve postings proposed by the general administration and other departments. Venugopal is advising the chief minister, who holds the finance portfolio, that expenditure of departments controlled by Congress ministers, should be approved without any delay. Even if the chief minister has any issues on releasing payments, he must discuss in the cabinet; but Kumaraswamy is not willing.

Venugopal is also busy with another issue as Kumaraswamy is also unwilling to let go of the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation, which should have gone to Congress as part of the Bangalore Development portfolio, held by Parameshwar. But Kumaraswamy wants to run the corporation, because he wants the metro to be extended to his assembly constituency Ramanagara, which is 50 km from the state capital. But Parameshwar wants to extend the metro to his home district of Tumkur, which is in the opposite direction of Ramanagara!

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