The assembly election in Karnataka, due on May 12, is seen as a high stakes battle between Congress Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is going all out to win back the first southern state the party had ruled. Exit polls, however, have not given a clear majority to either party and increasingly, it appears that Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular) may have the power to decide the outcome.
The BJP has chosen as its chief ministerial candidate BS Yeddyurappa, who was mired in charges of venality during his last term as head of the BJP’s first southern government. He told NDTV that it was his decision to disallow his son from running for office. However, the last-minute editing out of his son, BY Vijayendra, from the list of candidates has reportedly upset the 75-year-old, though he told that the exclusion was in keeping with the BJP’s policy of avoiding “father-son” combos as candidates.
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who is seen as having far more autonomy in the running of his campaign than provided to Mr Yeddyurappa by the BJP, said, “I am not at all bothered whether (BJP president) Amit Shah comes or Prime Minister Narendra Modi comes and campaigns here.”
The caste factor has been enormous in this election with the chief minister calling for the Lingayats, estimated to form 17 per cent of the population, to be recognised as a religion. The Lingayats have traditionally backed the BJP and Mr Yeddyurappa is the prosperous community’s tallest leader. So the Congress move is a blatant attempt to replace the BJP as the Lingayats’ preferred choice.
The Lingayats, concentrated in North and Central Karnataka, decide 62 seats. The Scheduled Castes and Tribes, domination the east, influence an equal number. Coastal Karnataka is a mixture of all cadres and decides 33 seats. Muslims power the outcome of 24 seats.
There are 224 seats in all. To win, a party must get 113.
Mr Siddaramaiah left Mr Gowda’s JDS for the Congress in 2005. Mr Kumaraswamy , who is Mr Gowda’s son, was then the Chief Minister of a coalition government with the BJP, a move which so upset his father that he fell sick.
“His father’s health is important to him,” Mr Gowda said, when asked if, given a chance, Mr Kumaraswamy would return to a BJP team.