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Karnataka elections: A look at factors which propelled Congress to power in 2013

Soumalya Santikari
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When Karnataka last went to polls in 2013, the Congress had three distinct advantages that catapulted it to power.

This time, however, all these factors are non-existent and the party will have to rely solely on the performance of the Siddaramaiah government.

Anti-incumbency: The BJP’s first government in south India came to power in Karnataka in 2008 under the leadership of BS Yeddyurappa, who had famously declared that his only agenda as chief minister would be “development, development and development”.  The voters had also reposed faith in BJP as they were fed up with the vagaries of coalition politics, which saw three governments and two spells of President’s rule between 2004 and 2008.

However, the BJP belied the hopes of the people as the government got embroiled in a series of corruption cases, resulting in the imprisonment of Yeddyurappa and a string of his ministers. The promise of stability also fell flat with the acute infighting within the party leading to the appointment of three chief ministers in five years.

When its term ended, the BJP had completely squandered the mandate of the voters and a strong anti-incumbency wave swept it out of power.

Illegal mining in Ballari: One of the major issues that dominated the elections in 2013 was the large-scale illegal iron ore mining in Ballari district by the Reddy brothers and their cohorts during the BJP rule.

With public anger mounting against the plunder of the state’s natural resources, the then opposition leader Siddaramaiah had led a 320-km padayatra in 2010 from Bengaluru to Ballari, where he thundered at a massive rally, “We will soon hoist the Congress flag on Vidhana Soudha.”

The Reddy brothers were unperturbed and just as they were gloating over their invincibility, the bubble burst. A Lok Ayukta report exposed the illegal mining scam, which led to the resignation of Janardhana Reddy and Karunakara Reddy from the BJP ministry, with the former being incarcerated for 40 months.

In the elections that followed, Siddaramaiah’s words would turn prophetic.

Split in BJP: Another decisive factor which went in favour of the Congress was a two-way split in the BJP. Angered with the party for side-lining him over corruption charges, Yeddyurappa floated the Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP), while Reddy-loyalist B. Sriramulu formed the Badavara Shramikara Raithara Congress after the BJP distanced itself from the Ballari brothers.

Between them, the outfits managed to win only ten seats and Yeddyurappa succeeded in inflicting a heavy blow on the BJP by splitting votes in several constituencies. The BJP’s tally fell from 110 in the previous elections to 40, while the Congress share increased from 80 seats to 122.

Now, as the state goes to polls on May 12, the Congress cannot benefit from anti-incumbency because BJP is not in power; the mining controversy is dead; Yeddyurappa and Sriramulu have returned to the BJP. However, the BJP has given some leeway to the Congress by granting tickets to most of its tainted former ministers.

With the three major factors that propelled it to power no longer in play, it remains to be seen if the Congress will manage to sail through only on the basis of chief minister Siddaramaiah’s performance.

(The writer is a political commentator and senior journalist)