Aditi Phadnis / New Delhi May 17, 2008: Like Yedyurappa did earlier, the Congress may now have to go in for numerology.
So the voting in the Shikaripura Assembly constituency is over and the outcome is sealed, to be signed and delivered on May 25 when the counting for the Assembly elections is scheduled. Next Sunday, we will know who will form the government in Karnataka. As Shimoga is the region that has returned S Bangarappa without a break the last seven times he has contested the elections, B S Yeddyurappa could become Karnataka's first chief minister to be elected from the Legislative Council rather than the Assembly.
Actually, Yeddyurappa could have been declared chief minister with greater confidence this time, if he hadn't made a hash of it the last time around. Despite BJP chief Rajnath Singh's express instructions that "Mr Yeddyurappa, you shall not put in a bid to form a government" at the end of October 2007, he virtually defied the diktat and became chief minister with the help of the Janata Dal S — for precisely a week from November 12 to 19. In that one week, the BJP lost all the goodwill it had managed to garner after sitting Chief Minister Kumaraswamy reneged on the BJP-JDS arrangement that entailed Yeddyurappa becoming CM for the rest of the term. Yeddyurappa rushed to stake his claim and had to give it up within days.
This time again, party leader L K Advani has declared that the BJP will enter into no alliances and would rather sit in the opposition than form a coalition government. It would not have been necessary for him to say that had Yeddyurappa not shown the inordinate haste to become CM last time.
It is not all Yeddyurappa's fault if you consider the stakes. In Bellary, the heart of Karnataka's mining district that went to the polls yesterday, the Congress candidate and mining magnate Anil Lad declared Rs 178 crore as his assets. The BJP candidate Somshekara Reddy — one of three Reddy brothers who run a powerful mining business — declared Rs 60 crore. Both used private helicopters freely to campaign (Bellary has the highest per capita number of helicopters anywhere in the country) till the Election Commission told them laconically, it was all being added up in their campaigning bill and they were in danger of being disqualified if they violated their spending limit. In the last 15 days alone, officials of the Election Commission and district administration have seized close to Rs 10.5 crore from vehicles entering the city. Curiously, the Samajwadi Party candidate stood down in favour of the Congress candidate in Bellary.
Unsurprisingly, everyone, both in the BJP and the Congress, wants to control the election. If in the Congress, this is going to be the single most important reason for the party's debacle (it may have to go, cap in hand, to H D Deve Gowda once again to beg the support of his Janata Dal S to form a government), in the BJP, it is the biggest motivation for intraparty sabotage. Knives are finding their way into people's backs with deft accuracy.
All this is causing liberals in the Congress to complain bitterly about all the things that are wrong with their party that could end up working to the BJP's advantage. In the first phase in which 89 constituencies — mostly in the Old Mysore region — went to the polls, the Congress expects 40 to 45 but admits freely that if the figure is nearer 30, it simply is not good enough. In the second phase, basically in the middle Karnataka region, from the east to the west, of the 66 constituencies, the party expects around 25, but state intelligence sources put this closer to 15. In the last phase, 69 seats in the so-called Hyderabad Karnataka, all the reports suggest the BJP is better placed.
The Congress had 65 seats out of 224 in the last Assembly. This time, they should have had between 90 and 100. The state party says the BJP is more likely to reach that number. This is because every leader has pretty much dictated the choice of candidates, where winnability is not a factor — deal-making capacity is.
Consider Bangalore with nearly 30 assembly seats, both rural and urban. Bangalore South is going to be lost by the Congress because of a weak candidate. At least three other constituencies in Bangalore will suffer because of the choice of candidate.
There are other reasons why the BJP is grinning. Siddaramiah, of the low-caste Kuruba community, was enticed by the Congress to leave Deve Gowda's government where he was deputy chief minister, on the promise of chief ministership. Of course, later the Congress said no such promise was made. Now, Siddaramiah finds that even if the Congress miraculously manages to form a government, the prize will not go to him. So why should he work at getting the Congress to win. He is working hard to drive the Lingayats — perceived as oppressors by the Kurubas — out of the Congress to notch up points with his community. If he is not chief minister, why should he care who is? Veerappa Moily, another top Congress leader, recently released advertisements with his smiling visage (and he isn't even contesting) about a programme that he claimed he had launched. It was actually launched by former IT Minister B K Chandrashekar.
On a scale of 10, the Congress rates the importance of winning Karnataka at 6 or 7. This is because if the BJP wins Karnataka, it will, of course, be bad for Congress liberals, but it will have the effect of setting off a leadership war in the Karnataka Congress, leaving open the possibility of splits and the eventual decimation of the party.
During the period he was fighting Deve Gowda, Yedyurappa, it is now well known, changed the way he spelt his name on advice from numerologists in the hope that things would go his way. Reports from Karnataka suggest it is the Congress that may have to resort to numerology next.