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A clear uncertainty in 'War of Karnataka'

Thursday, May 10, 2018
By Bharatkumar Raut

The 'hot tempered' election campaign for the Karnataka State Assembly election is on the verge of close. At 5 pm this evening the electioneering would come to a grinding halt and the state will poll for the next Assembly on this Saturday. Unlike many elections in the past, this time it looks like a straight contest between Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP and Rahul Gandhi's Congress with H D Devegowda playing his usual "Spoiler's  Game". His Janata Dal (S) is aiming to be in the 'King Maker' role, envisaging that the electorate will return a fractured House. Rahul is repeatedly making it public that he is confident of retaining power despite herculean efforts by Modi and the BJP President Amit Shah. BJP is equally confident in the last leg to wrest the state from Congress once again. But it's allegation about an election that Shah has repeatedly guaranteed as a "Modi tsunami" is odd. Equally odd is the plight of poor 75-year-old BS Yeddyurappa, who is the chief ministerial candidate of the BJP and whose son, BY Vijayendra, and close friend Shobha Karandlaje have been denied tickets by Shah.

This is bound to disconcert Yeddyurappa who quit the BJP in 2012 to form his own party after his term as chief minister was aborted on account of corruption allegations. Yeddyurappa, who single-handedly created a BJP presence in Karnataka, is extremely disturbed, said sources, because he does not trust Shah's intentions and feels his age will be used as an excuse to shift him even if the party wins the election - the BJP holds 75 as its retirement age. The Karnataka veteran is reportedly worried that Shah "may do a Dhumal" on him like last year, Prem Kumar Dhumal, the chief ministerial aspirant in Himachal Pradesh, lost his election in a defeat that some felt was constructed by his own party.

Will BJP Ditch Yeddyurappa?
Rumours are agog that Yeddyurappa has shared his fears with a central minister he is close to and who has counselled patience and told him that it is unwise to take on Shah and Modi in what is clearly the last roll of the dice for him. So while Yeddyurappa feels Shah treats him with scant respect, he has no choice but to tolerate it. Shah, who usually thrives on elections, has not been his unflappable self in Karnataka. He has made a series of public gaffes, including calling Yeddyurappa the leader of Karnataka's most corrupt government (he meant Siddaramaiah of the Congress).In revenge for the insults, Yeddyurappa has said that it was Shah's decision to return to centre-stage the Reddy brothers, mining barons from Bellary accused of vast corruption, two of whom have been allowed by the BJP to contest the election. Close aides have also been chosen as candidates.

BJP is committing these silly mistakes perhaps because Karnataka is the first election experience of both Modi and Shah. Both were not in picture when Karnataka went for Assembly polls last time in 2013. Modi was then administering Gujarat as its chief minister while Shah was in a political wilderness as he was in extradition by court order. The RSS, the mother-ship of the Sangh, is upset with Shah over giving tickets to corruption-tainted Reddy brothers in what an RSS leader describes as a "wholesale way". Shah has now tried on three occasions over the past three months to explain and justify his decision to the RSS top brass who are yet to be convinced of the merit of the move. Shah has also asked his allies in the RSS, Suresh Soni and Dattatreya Hosabale, to "Make RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat and General Secretary Bhaiyajee Joshi less upset about the Bellary barons", said sources confidently. May 15, result day for Karnataka, has assumed huge personal stakes for Shah as a section of the BJP and RSS wants Shah replaced as party chief by either Rajnath Singh or Nitin Gadkari, both former presidents of the party. It has been announced that Modi and Shah will not share a stage with Reddy brothers  in order to claim that the anti-corruption plank they hold dear has not been compromised. However, the Bellary brothers continue to dominate campaigning. The BJP is coming out with sadder excuses like Prakash Javadekar saying unconvincingly that the Bellary brothers' exertions are in their "personal capacity". On this Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah laughed and said "Yes, the Bellary brothers are well-known social workers who work selflessly, not expecting any gains. The BJP thinks people are fooled, but all of Karnataka has seen through the Bellary game. Shah is also uncomfortable with the battle in Karnataka pitched as one between Siddaramaiah versus Yeddyurappa, who trails in the face off in the BJP's expensive in-house surveys. Instead, Shah prefers it to be Rahul versus Modi. The Congress is ensuring that Gandhi and Siddaramaiah do a tandem act and address joint rallies.

Yogi's Campaign Curtailed
Despite declaring nearly 35 rallies for Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath for the final stretch, the BJP has had a rethink and could cut down his appearances. These glitches are not normally witnessed in the awesome BJP campaign machinery witnessed in every election. The Karnataka victory for the BJP and Shah and Modi will mean they approach the general election as conquerors with all dissent within the BJP and the Sangh squelched. If the Congress retains Karnataka, Gandhi will finally be able to offer himself as a leader capable of winning a tough election.

In short, the Saturday voting in Karnataka would draw battle line for the 2019 Lok Sabha Polls. Karnataka being the 'Gateway' of South India, the result in this state would draw the prospects for the BJP in the South. On the other hand, it would decide whether the Congress will have a face to show or would be reduced to the party of Punjab and Pondicherry only.

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