BANGALORE: Battle for power has begun in the Congress Party in Karnataka even before the verdict of the people in the Assembly election held on May 12 is known.
Though only three exit polls have given the party an edge, the chief ministerial aspirants in the party have started locking horns. Six out of eight exit polls have given the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) an edge in the battle for 222 of the 224 seats.
While B S Yedyurappa is the sole contender for the top post in the saffron party, Congress has more than two contenders. The main battle this time is between Siddaramaiah, the incumbent chief minister, and senior party leader Mallikarjun Kharge.
There were two power centres in the state prior to the 2013 Assembly polls. However, Siddaramaiah emerged as the sole candidate for the post of the chief minister with the rival aspirant and then Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president G Parmeshwara losing the election at Koratagere constituency in Tumakuru district.
Parameshwara, who is a prominent dalit leader in the state, is playing the cards close to his chest. He evaded questions on the chief ministership saying that the first priority of the party was to win the election and the issue of chief ministership could be dealt with later.
Kharge, who is another prominent dalit leader in the state, is not ready to wait. He has already staked his claim by pointing the Dalit card. He has entered the fray hoping that he could emerge as a consensus candidate in case the party does not get absolute majority as predicted by most exit polls.
Political observers feel that there will be room for maneuvering since the Janata Dal (S), which is slated to emerge as a king maker, has not made its stand clear. Though party spokesman Danish Ali has ruled out the party’s support to the Bharatiya Janata Party, he was evasive on the question of extending support to the Congress in the event of a hung Assembly.
Siddaramaiah, who described the JD (S) as a B team of the BJP along with his party boss Rahul Gandhi, has no doubt about his party getting enough seats to retain the power. He is supreme confident that the Congress will get more than 120 seats and he will get another term.
He is holding his ground in the race for the chief ministership on the strength of the support he hopes to get from the MLAs. The chief minister said on Sunday that he will not object if the party high command prefers a dalit as the next CM but warned the party bosses against imposing their decision on the elected representatives.
He seems to be confident that he will win the race if the selection is made on the basis of opinion of the elected representatives. The confidence stems from the unstinted support he got from the MLAs in the outgoing Assembly. In fact, Siddaramaiah is the first CM to complete the full five-year term in the last four decades.
The last CM to complete a full five-year term was D Devaraj Urs, who remained in the saddle from 1972 to 1977 without any dissident activity. However, his next term was cut short when he had to resign in 1980 after being ousted and succeeded by R Gundu Rao.
The chief minister pointed out that his other predecessors like Veerendra Patil and Veerappa Moily had to bow out of office before completing their term. “I had no such problem. All MLAs have cooperated with me. All MPs cooperated with me. All senior leaders have cooperated with me. May be one or two people gave statements here and there,” Siddaramaiah told reporters in Mysuru.
The BJP, which emerged as the single largest party in the 2008 elections, saw three chief ministers during the five-year term. In fact, the instability in Karnataka under the BJP regime has been one of the major campaign points of the Congress in this election.
Siddaramaiah. therefore, considers the party will give due weightage to the stability he brought to the state. He said there were many in his party who want to become the chief minister. “I don't think that's wrong. I don't think that is bad. In democracy you need to have opportunities. I will never say they're wrong. In fact. I have more affection for them. But they should work hard to fulfill their ambition,” he said.
Meanwhile, he told a Kannada news channel that if dalit leader is appointed as the CM without taking legislators into confidence, it will adversely impact governance. The party will have to take the opinion of all the legislators before passing the mantle to another leader.
Siddaramaiah is confident that he will get the mantle if the selection is made on the basis of the opinion of the MLAs. Speaking to reporters in Chamundeshwari constituency, the Congress leader said that the party had gone to people by projecting him as the chief ministerial candidate. He does not expect any change in the party decision if the Congress gets the majority.
He has sought to impress the MLAs by asserting that he will not contest any more elections after this. “I will not enter the fray even if Brahma tells me to do so. However, I will continue my fight against communal forces till my last breath,” he asserted.
The election witnessed the highest voter turnout in the state in over 35 years. According to the election commission, the final polling is 72.13% as against 71.45% in the 2013 elections. The highest voter turnout before 2013 was in 1978 – when the state witnessed a polling percentage of 71.90%.
All the major players claim that the higher turnout will benefit them. While the Congress has viewed this as the absence of anti-incumbency votes against it, the BJP feels that the additional voters had turned up at the polling booths to throw out the Congress regime.
The picture will become clear on Tuesday, when the votes sealed in ballot boxes will be counted.