Congress, which is gung-ho about its prospects in the 2023 Assembly polls and has got a headstart over other parties in the candidates’ selection process as well as setting the poll narrative, is facing a peculiar situation in Karnataka.
There is a big rush from aspirants for party tickets. So much so that it can cause some heartburn among those who fail to make it, if not result in dissidence. In contrast, one of its tallest leaders and a
chief ministerial aspirant Siddaramaiah is still searching for a safe seat.
Siddaramaiah is among very few leaders with a pan-Karnataka appeal. He was the only CM after Devaraj Urs to complete the full term of five years. His predicament over seat selection and a sense of vulnerability, that too when Congress is eager to take the battle to the BJP’s doorsteps, speaks volumes about apprehensions over internal dynamics taking the wind out of the party’s sails in the nick of time.
In 2018, the Congress leader won from Badami in Bagalkot district with a narrow margin of little over 1,600 votes against BJP’s B Sriramulu but lost to Janata Dal (S) candidate GT Deve Gowda with a big margin of over 36,000 votes in Chamundeshwari in his home district of Mysuru. In fact, his decision to contest from two seats did not help the party.
Perhaps due to logistical and political reasons, Siddaramaiah ruled out the possibility of seeking re-election from Badami, which is around 450 km from the state capital. Chamundeshwari in the Vokkaliga heartland looks difficult.
So, the names of many constituencies, including Kolar and Varuna, started popping up. Internal differences – not BJP’s strength – that led to veteran leader KH Muniyappa’s defeat in the 2018 Lok Sabha polls, could prove dicey for the former CM, although his camp will be relying heavily on the caste arithmetic.
Murmurs in the party circles after Siddaramiah’s visit to Kolar indicated that things are not going to be that easy. Also, the possibility of a tacit understanding between BJP and JDS to defeat him, and a section of Vokkaligas seeing him as a challenger to state Congress president DK Shivakumar in the chief ministerial race could make matters difficult for the former CM.
In fact, in 2004, then Chief Minister SM Krishna had kept everyone guessing about his constituency till he filed a nomination from the Chamarajpet Assembly segment in Bengaluru at the last minute. Like now, the mood in Congress at that time was upbeat. Krishna was confident of bringing Congress back to power, so he took the risk of going for early elections. The strategy failed, and a coalition government was formed with the support of JDS. That experiment did not last long and eventually paved the way for BJP’s emergence in a big way on the political scene in Karnataka.
Also, given what happened to then state Congress president Dr G Parameshwara in the 2013 elections, Siddaramaiah may not take any chances and finally go to Varuna in Mysuru. The constituency, which is now represented by his son Dr Yathindra Siddaramaiah, had elected the former CM in 2008 and 2013. It is considered to be a relatively safe seat, but a lot depends on BJP and JDS strategies. Parameshwara, who was in the race for the chief ministerial post, lost the Assembly polls.
From the party’s point of view, a safe seat will give the former CM enough legroom to campaign for the other candidates. Unlike BJP, which has a strong line-up of national leaders who will spread across the state in the next few weeks and months, the Congress’ strategy depends largely on Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar, although Rahul Gandhi and some central leaders, too, will be campaigning extensively.
Siddaramaiah is always at the forefront of the Congress’s attack on BJP. He also receives most of the fire from the opposition. Many in Congress also feel that his diatribe against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a strong anti-Hindutva stance often does more harm than good when the party is trying hard to win over the majority community and get rid of the tag that it goes out of the way to appease certain minority communities.
The Congress under Mallikarjuna Kharge’s leadership is likely to look at loyalty and winnability as major criteria for giving tickets. On its part, the ruling BJP – which has set an ambitious target of winning 150 seats – has its share of issues when it comes to ticket distribution. Going with the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh formula of not giving tickets to many sitting MLAs may be a good idea to beat anti-incumbency at the local level. But it can turn out to be risky if not handled well in each of the segments as Congress and JDS will be eager to exploit the situation.
As far as Siddaramaiah is concerned, the BJP will make all attempts to defeat him, or at least confine him to his constituency. Like in a Football game, the opponents will mark players like Lionel Messi and try to slow them down. But, right passes from the teammates make all the difference!