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Congress idli or BJP dosa?

By M D Riti
April 20, 2004 10:20 IST
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Would you like Congress idlis or a BJP dosa?" the owner of a small footpath eatery in Bangalore asks customers.

A Congress idli is seasoned with red chillies, coriander and coconut, and served with three chutneys in different colours.

BJP dosas are spiced with red chillies and coriander, to give them saffron and green colours.

"I'll eat the idlis here and take away a dosa for my dinner," says a middle-aged man at the counter. The choice that he makes seems appropriate for the times.

The feeling in the state seems to be that Karnataka will send a majority of BJP members of Parliament to Delhi.

As for what will happen to the state assembly, nothing is clear. The contest is between the Congress and the BJP.

Will S M Krishna continue for a second term as chief minister, or will the BJP make Karnataka the first southern state that it wins?

Poll predictions have seldom worked well in Karnataka, where the electorate seems unpredictable. In the 1998 parliamentary election, the BJP gained major ground, winning 13 out of 28 seats.

The very next year, when the Lok Sabha election was held again, the BJP could retain only four of those seats.

Krishna is, of course, sure he will win enjoy a second term like his neighbour N Chandrababu Naidu.

That is why he dissolved the Karnataka assembly eight months ahead of time.

He hoped to take the BJP by surprise, catch it at a time when its national leadership's focus would be on retaining power in Delhi. But the BJP leadership struck back, pouring in ample resources and employing its star campaigners and strategists to win the assembly election and maximum seats to the Lok Sabha.

The mood at the moment in Karnataka seems to be one of resigned satisfaction with the way things are, if not great approval of it.

This is an unusual mood, because at least the three past elections have seen a situation where people voted against the existing regime, for another new one.

This mood gives the Congress the confidence that it will win the assembly election, even if not the one to Parliament.

The BJP, on the other hand, has certainly gained tremendous ground in the state over the past decade. The process has been gradual, almost unnoticed.

In contrast, the once powerful Janata Dal and all its factions has steadily destroyed itself. Internal power struggles are the main reason for this. Now, there are as many as four different factions of the Janata Dal.

The advent of booze baron Vijay Mallya, with his money power and organisational skills, has breathed new energy into an otherwise dying Janata Party.

The Janata Dal was always strong in North Karnataka, earlier known as the Bombay-Karnatak area, especially in areas dominated by the Lingayats.

This was largely because Ramakrishna Hegde was very popular here. Mallya has been trying hard to hold onto this region. Even his television advertisements seem to target this area.

The BJP has tried to counter this by inducting Hegde's son Bharat Hegde into its fold and getting him to contest from this region.

The last time around, the Janata Dal and BJP were together in an alliance. This time, they are separate, which could work against the BJP.

Coastal Karnataka, comprising Dakshina Kannada and Udupi, used to be a BJP stronghold once but went the Congress way five years ago.

Sonia Gandhi's advent into politics is believed to have caused something like a 12 percent vote swing, between 1998 and 1999, in the Congress' favour. This time too, Krishna has taken pains to repeatedly refer, in his campaign speeches, to Rahul and Priyanka's role in politics.

In South Karnataka, the regions generally known as Old Mysore (Mandya, Mysore, Chamrajnagar, Kodagu) and Hyderabad-Karnatak, the Congress has traditionally had the upper hand.

There are serious problems in the state, which cash-rich Bangaloreans remains unaware of. Karnataka has faced three droughts, one after the other, resulting in parched lands, dried up tanks and rivers everywhere.

Drought management by the ruling Congress has been severely criticised by the other parties.

Karnataka, which has the second largest rain fed area in the country, confronts an acute drought following the failure of the monsoon. Over 95 percent of its area -- that is, over 162 taluks out of 176 -- reels under severe water shortage.

There were a huge number of defections between the major parties within a short time.

Politicians who feared they would not get tickets from their parties did most of the party hopping. The most high profile of these defectors was, of course, former chief minister Sarekoppa Bangarappa, who jumped into the BJP.

His son Kumar did a double jump: first he followed his father from the Congress to the BJP. Then, when the BJP did not give him an assembly ticket, he quickly hopped back into the Congress, accusing the BJP of being stifling. All this when he had not even visited a BJP party office during the two weeks he was a member of that party.

The battle of Bangarappa versus Bangarappa is generating some fizz and sparkle in the Shimoga area. Bangarappa's sons, Kumar and Madhu, are standing against each other from Sorab, from the Congress and BJP respectively.

"Didn't all of you watch the Rajakumar hit film Babruvahana, and whistle when father and son went to war against each other?" an irate S Bangarappa -- who supports Madhu against Kumar -- said when asked if he should lend his name to this kind of sibling squabble. "Why don't you sit back and enjoy the same battle in real life now?"

Image: Rahil Shaikh

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M D Riti