Over 5.12 crore voters of Karnataka will be exercising their franchise on May 12 to elect a new government in the state. Siddaramaiah is the only chief minister of Karnataka
since Devraj Urs (1972-77) to complete five years in the office. SM Krishna, too, completed his term (1999-2004) but election was advanced by six months.
While Siddaramaiah eyes a reelection with the Congress putting in almost everything to retain Karnataka against a rampaging BJP, the ruling party is facing several challenges in the state.
Revamped state unit of BJP
The first major challenge for the Congress in Karnataka is a revamped state unit of BJP. The 2013 loss of the BJP had been blamed on rebellion of BS Yeddyurappa, the Reddy brothers of Ballari and B Sriramulu.
Yeddyurappa’s removal as the chief minister in the wake of corruption charges against the Reddy brothers had alienated the BJP’s core support base in Karnataka – the Lingayats, who are influential voters in over 120 of 224 assembly seats.
Yeddyurappa’s reentry into the BJP had benefitted the party in 2014 Lok Sabha elections – only a year after the last Karnataka assembly polls. Now, Yeddyurappa is the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate. With Sriramulu and Reddy brothers again throwing their weight behind the BJP, the party presents a formidable challenge to the Congress in Karnataka.
Karnataka voters has not voted back again since 1989,
The Congress has not been voted back to power for consecutive terms in Karnataka since 1983. The state has also not voted back the ruling party or coalition to power since 1989. The BJP was voted to back to power in 2008 but after it fell out with its coalition partner, the JD (S).
Well aware of the past election trends in Karnataka, Siddaramaiah virtually launched his poll campaign soon after he took over as the chief minister in 2013. Most of his freebie schemes have “bhagya” (luck) in their names — beginning with Anna Bhagya that was launched within hours of taking over as the Karnataka chief minister.
It is estimated that up to 40 per cent of budgetary expenditure of Karnataka since 2013 has been routed to freebie “bhagya” schemes of Siddaramaiah. The schemes were so designed to target Siddaramaiah’s AHINDA political constituency. AHINDA is the Kannada acronym for minority, Dalits and backward caste communities.
However, freebies are not always known to win elections. Tamil Nadu is an example in study for Siddaramaiah in the neighbourhood. Anti-incumbency has, thus, become a major worry for the Congress and Siddaramaiah.
With Prime Minister Narendra Modi taking charge of BJP’s campaign in the last lap of electioneering, the Congress betrayed its nervousness by fielding former party president Sonia Gandhi on the election turf in Karnataka. Sonia Gandhi, who has not been in good health of late, addressed a public rally in Bijapur yesterday.
Major challenge of the Congress is lack money
The Third major challenge for the Congress is money. The party could not field candidates on all the seats in recently held Nagaland Assembly election due to cash crunch. The party released a list of 23 candidates out of which five withdrew their candidature citing money problem. Five years ago, they had fielded 58 candidates in the state.
The Congress leadership has been of the view that the state unit should manage funds for election locally, at least a sizeable part of the entire expenditure. Siddaramaiah is said to have been working on the funding business for quite some time in Karnataka. Some analysts have said that the fund managing by Siddaramaiah has given currency to the BJP’s charge of “10 per cent CM”.
On the other hand, the BJP is the richest political party in the country with one ADR (Association for Democratic Reforms) report last year saying that the saffron organisation’s assets grew by 627 per cent in 10 years. Earlier this year, it was reported that the BJP received the largest chunk of political donations. And, money plays an important in electioneering.
Congress has weakening of organisational strength,
The BJP has thousands of committed unpaid volunteers working in the field in Karnataka. They are driven by strong ideological affiliation to the philosophy of the BJP. The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) workers are also backing the BJP.
The Congress has seen weakening of organisational strength state after state. Many have pointed out that the Congress lost Gujarat Assembly election recently due to organisational weakness. The Congress is said to be top heavy party while the BJP takes pride in its strong cadre base.
Local unemployment and over-dependence on Bengaluru,
Karnataka is one of the better performing states of the country in terms of GDP growth rate. But the state has burgeoning problem of local unemployment and over-dependence on Bengaluru. While industry and services sectors based in Bengaluru have been doing well, agriculture and allied segments of economy have shown slowdown.
Under Siddaramaiah, Karnataka’s debt burden has more than doubled in five years. The overall debt burden of Karnataka was Rs 1.36 lakh crore in 2013-14 which has now increased to Rs 2.86 lakh crore.
Corruption in the lower rung of government under Siddaramaiah seems to have become more rampant with a report released last month by the Centre for Media Studies labeling Karnataka as the most corrupt state in the country.
The CMS survey conducted in 20 states found “77 percent of respondents” in Karnataka saying that they experienced corruption in accessing public services. Corruption may turn out to be the biggest challenge for Siddaramaiah.