BANGALORE: March 18 is the day of reckoning for old foes, the Congress and the BJP in Karnataka. Voters in Udupi-Chickmagalur Lok Sabha seat, vacated by Chief Minister D V Sadananda Gowda will be choosing his successor in this crucial byelection. In 1978, former prime minister Indira Gandhi won the byelection from the seat, which signalled the return of the Congress party after the Emergency.
The UPA is desperately seeking a PR victory after the trashing it got in the state polls last week. The state BJP is trying to launder its once shiny saffron of the dirt and grime of corruption, while tackling a vengeful B S Yeddyurappa who is seeking his place in the sun once more. The results will determine the popularity of the party in Karnataka and a harbinger of things to come in 2014. It will also be a limited referendum for its former Member of Parliament, Sadananda Gowda, who however says the result can in no way be treated as a referendum on the state government’s performance. “People will exercise their franchise based on the progress of schemes and programmes of the government,” he added. He had won Udupi-Chickmagalur by a margin of 28,000 votes.
The Congress has, therefore, unleashed a phalanx of heavy hitters in Chickmagalur. AICC President Sonia Gandhi has appointed party General Secretary and Rajya Sabha member Oscar Fernandes as chairman of the campaign committee. Four Union ministers from Karnataka—Minister for External Affairs S M Krishna, Minister for Labour and Employment Mallikarjun Kharge, Minister for Corporate Affairs Veerappa Moily and Minister of State for Railways K H Muniyappa—have pitched camp in Chickmagalur and are hitting the campaign trail. Congress candidate Jayaprakash Hegde hopes this will help. Old Karnataka hand, former chief minister and Union Minister
Krishna is addressing party meetings in Chickmagalur, Tarikere and Sringeri Assembly segments. He is also the party in-charge for the Bangalore Revenue Division consisting of about 89 Assembly seats. Krishna being a Vokkaliga leader of long standing is expected to pull in the caste votes.
The BJP’s man in the field is its Yuva Morcha chief Sunil Kumar, while the Janata Dal (Secular) has fielded former Chickmagalur Municipal Council chairman Bhoje Gowda.
It may not be easy for the Congress. In the stiff triangular fight, Sunil Kumar appears to have the edge, according to political sources. Of the total eight Assembly segments, seven are held by the BJP and the zilla panchayats of both the districts.
JD(S) candidate Bhoje Gowda may divide Vokkaliga votes, which otherwise would have gone to the Congress. “The voters of Chickmagalur and Udupi are not caste minded but are nationalists. They are attracted towards the BJP’s ideological character,” says BJP General Secretary C T Ravi. But JD(S) President H D Kumaraswamy has a different theory. “The people are sick of the theatrics of the two national parties. While the BJP is corrupt, communal and inefficient, the Congress in Delhi is no different. The outcome of elections in five states is an indicator that there is a scope for the emergence of a third front. It is going to happen with the victory of JD(S) in the March 18 byelection,” he says.
The strife Yeddyurappa has unleashed in the BJP is an ideal climate the Congress can exploit. But Krishna, Moily and friends are faced with a history of groupism in the state Congress. The party is out of power for almost a decade. Karnataka was once a Congress bastion but the party suffered consecutive defeats in the Assembly elections in 2004 and in 2008. The back-to-back electoral setback had dwindled its traditional vote bank of minorities and the SC-STs who constitute about 25 per cent of the electorate. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, it won only six of 28 seats in the state. The Congress has not won a single byelection in over 18 Assembly seats since February 2009.
Its vote percentage, however, has remained intact hovering between 34 to 36 per cent. A positive swing between 3 and 5 per cent would be enough for the party to regain its past glory. Krishna’s statement that “10 years of political vanavas (exile) is too long a period for any political party to sustain” is heard as a bugle call to battle. “I will invest all my experience and skill to bring back the party to power in Karnataka,” as he “owes a lot to the organisation.”
All four ministers were made party incharges in four revenue divisions of the state. Their job: reinfusing enthusiasm in the cadres, and reconcile the many warring local satraps in the party organisation. They are already busy holding series of meetings of both grassroot workers and leaders. Pradesh Congress Committee President Dr G Parameshwar feels this will bolster the party’s confidence. It needs a lot of it.
History Redux in Chickmagalur
“Chickmagalur (younger daughter) must give political rebirth to country’s doddamagalu (elder daughter)” was the slogan in 1978, when Indira Gandhi contested and won from Chickmagalur. Ironically, the seat was vacated by D B Chandre Gowda, presently the BJP MP from Bangalore North, to enable her to contest. The then chief minister of Karnataka, D Devaraj Urs, is credited with managing the historical campaign. Urs, however, later split with Indira and formed his own party, Congress(U). Just like the Congress has unleashed Union ministers this time, in 1978, the Janata Party sent star ministers such as George Fernandes, L K Advani, Madhu Dandavate and Ramakrishna Hegde to take on Indira.