Congress Down the Hill in South - The New Indian Express

Congress Down the Hill in South

Published: 08th March 2014 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 09th March 2014 07:45 AM

The short shrift the Congress has now got in the new and prospective state of Telangana from the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) is indicative of the shrinking fortune of the current ruling party at the Centre in the coming elections this summer. After daylong discussions, the TRS decided not to merge with the Congress.

As for its alliance with a central party, the TRS has decided that it will be open to negotiations and the BJP is not ruled out in the political bargains characteristic of pre-poll alliances. With this decision of the TRS, the poll prospects for the Congress in the state it staked so much to create have sunk.

The rejection of the Congress by the TRS follows the earlier shutting of the door for the then ruling party in Tamil Nadu, the DMK. The state’s current ruling party, the AIADMK, had aligned with the Third Front being cobbled up by Marxist leader Prakash Karat.

The Congress now has to go it alone in a state where it has not been able to wrest power for the last 45 years. Nor has it been able to get any parliamentary seat without support from either of the two main Dravidian parties. With the prospects of it losing the cutting edge of success in Telangana, despite its staking so much for the creation of the state in the hope of winning a bulk of the 17 Lok Sabha seats there, Andhra is a write-off for the party.

The only hope for the Congress in the south thus is restricted to Karnataka and Kerala. But the opinion polls have already indicated that for the party that is ruling Kerala in an alliance with Christian and Muslim interests, the internal tensions are already threatening the state government itself.

The shadow of the solar panel scandal which chief minister Ommen Chandy is unable to shake off and the rising concern of the two chief Hindu sectoral interests are eating into the vitals of the ruling United Democratic Front.

In Karnataka, too, uncertainty has gripped the Congress despite its Assembly election triumph recently. The older Congress leaders are apprehensive that chief minister Siddaramaiah may influence the party high command to deny tickets to them.

Railway minister Mallikarjun Kharge, for instance, is already past 70. Veerappa Moily, at present holding several ministries including oil at the Centre, is said to be not in the immediate circle of Rahul favourites. The attempt of the high command of the party to enthrone technocrat Nandan Nilekani in the prestigious Bangalore South constituency has already upset the Jaffer Sharief group, a hard-line Muslim former central minister who had been angling for this constituency. The Congress also faces the prospect of a significant loss among the Vokkaligas as the rising dominance of the OBCs in the party has already disturbed the caste equations within the Congress.

On the other side, the BJP has been steadily gaining ground. The return of former chief minister Yeddyurappa and his Lingayat supporters back to the BJP will end the division within the party supporters that had contributed to its loss of power in the recent state Assembly polls.

In Kerala, for instance, where the BJP has not even a single MLA and never had an MP in the Lok Sabha, it is the most oppressed Pulayas who have turned to Narendra Modi in their hour of getting a say in the Lok Sabha.

The OBC-led Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam is edging towards Modi as it is getting disillusioned with the Congress which it sees as being held hostage by the Christian and Muslim political factions to the disadvantage of the Hindu interests. Even among the Christian groups, there is growing support for Modi.

The Kerala Congress, largely influential in central Kerala with its dominant Christian population, has found two of its prominent leaders including Assembly chief whip of the UDF, P C George, openly rooting for Modi.

In Tamil Nadu, the DMK is already on record as not being averse to allying with the rising tide of the Modi wave. The DMK patriarch Karunanidhi’s son M K Stalin has let it be known that the party would have no truck with the Congress but could consider a partnership with the BJP.

More so, as chief minister and the DMK’s arch foe is revealing her ambition for a shot at the top as part of the Third Front. The DMK would need to convince the electorate that it will also have a strong influence on policy formulation at the Centre. For that it needs to be seen as an ally of a national party that is likely to come to power.

In Andhra, the BJP has a rising support with the TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu likely to tie up with the former. From the beginning, the BJP has been supportive of the separation of Telangana. With TRS founder K Chandrasekhara Rao abandoning the idea of a merger of his party with the Congress, he might align with the BJP.

Such alignment would give TRS leader enough clout at the Centre if Modi becomes the prime minister as against his current ties with the Third Front. The other favourite in Seemandhra is YSR Congress leader Jaganmohan Reddy. The possibility of the YSR Congress rather than the TDP winning a majority of the Lok Sabha seats in Seemandhra is evident in the opinion surveys as well as the by-election results in the last two years.

Jagan Reddy would support anyone at the Centre who would be ready to fully respond to the residual state’s needs. The BJP, therefore, could expect a post-poll support if not alliance from the YSR Congress. The YSR Congress is bitterly opposed to the Congress as Jagan accuses Sonia Gandhi of denying him the chief ministership after his father’s death in a helicopter crash four years ago and subsequent action of jailing him without bail for 18 months.

In Maharashtra, the Congress faces the lacklusture performance of the Congress-NCP alliance and the exposure of several scandals from the five-year-old Adarsh co-operative scam to the irrigation scandal in Vidarbha.

The scenario should be read in the context of the ruling alliance leader finding no breakthrough in the Hindi heartland of UP, Bihar, MP, Jharkhand and Rajasthan, the lead that the Trinamul Congress of Mamata Banerjee still maintains in West Bengal and the BJD in Odisha.

No wonder the bleak prospect has made many top Congress leaders, particularly ministers, wary of entering the election arena, as many reports suggest. In contrast in the South, the BJP, once considered as having no support beyond Karnataka, is now seen as the ascendant.

Balbir Punj is National Vice President, BJP.


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