Whether Chief Minister Siddaramaiah gets his party bosses’ backing to stand from two seats or three, or just the one, the damage has already been done.
Amit Shah’s oft repeated corruption charges – aka the Hublot watch - couldn’t be made to stick. The charges of poor governance were easily shrugged off, given the ground reality. Even farmers’ anger and agrarian distress hasn’t quite made the cut as yet, Mr Sambit Patra’s shrill pin-pricks at high-pitch, notwithstanding. But this one decision to stand from multiple seats signals a singular lack of confidence that does not square well with the Siddaramaiah that everyone has come to know.
This man is Karnataka’s Mr. Cool; his back and forth banter and braggadocio that comes so easily to him screams self-confidence, a belief in self that old Congressmen put down to arrogance. Either way, the subliminal message is that he doesn’t really need anyone to get where he wants to; that he, and only he, has the political smarts, and all the answers.
Why then, this two seat mis-step? It’s got every BJP strategist – and the JD(S) - rubbing their hands with glee.
Completely thrown off their game by Siddaramaiah’s Lingayat bolt which spurred Mr Shah to do the rounds of every Lingayats matha possible, to keep the party’s vote-bank intact, the BJP has played a waiting game.
Waiting for the Congress to stumble. And it has... or has it?
The saffronists believe they now have their message ready - if Chamundeshwari marked Siddaramaiah’s political birth, it will also spell finis, crowed a BJP insider. The CM has shrugged off the threat posed by the BJP leader B.S. Yeddyurappa’s son Vijayendra’s surprise induction into Varuna of course. But it has upended the chief minister’s carefully crafted electoral calculus, and certainly, given Delhi the jitters.
In a perfect Varuna, the CM could have left his son Yatindra in the safe hands of his poll managers, while he did one round of campaigning in Chamundeshwari and followed it up with another round, closer to polling. Ideally, this would free him to campaign across the rest of the state. But with the BJP and newfound enemy JD(S) baying for his blood, threatening to end his Chamundeswari-Varuna run, the BJP saying it is all set to tap the seething, underlying anger against the CM in his two home constituencies, Varuna and Chamundeshwari, Siddu may need to rethink the addition of Badami. It may be a Siddu- leaning Lingayat-Kuruba dominated seat. But it is still no cakewalk as he not only has to winkle the Lingayats out of the BJP’s hold, his own time and resources will be stretched.
And why play into the BJP’s hands, and as some say, his biggest opposition – his own party - the hardcore Congressmen who don’t really have his back? That’s as good as committing hara-kiri.. With your eyes wide open. Where’s the logic? What’s the reasoning behind this twin seat, no make that, this three seat pitch? Shouldnt he just pick one, and be done with that!
The BJP has not wasted a second in starting its whisper campaign, and it can only build to a crescendo as the campaign heats up with the major thrust of the BJP back story being that the Congress is so rattled by the ground shifting away from beneath its feet, that its two top honchos and a third powerhouse, are so unsure of winning their own seats that they want a safe seat, a fallback. That would be contesting out of fear, not confidence, wouldnt it?.
It’s not just the chief minister, there’s the KPCC chief G. Parameshwar who wants Koratagere, and Pulakeshwarinagar. That’s’ five. There’s also the CM’s close aide Mahadevappa, who wants C.V.Raman Nagar in Bengaluru and T. Holenarsipur for his son. That’s seven seats between five Congressmen, which means that the Congress, in the final tally, can realistically only expect to bank on five seats– not all seven.
Hence the protracted negotiations in Delhi. The last time that ticket negotiations stretched to more than 48 hours in 2013, by the way, journos in the know say that Siddaramaiah was so exhausted that he checked himself into a hospice to recover!
The real story behind these negotiations on seat allocations in the Congress – the BJP is ready with a second list – is not too far to seek. Party seniors like Mallikarjun Kharge and Veerappa Moily have every right to raise the red flag over the two seat formula affecting the final tally. It doesn’t sit well with the party dictum of one seat per family, and the Congress’ emphasis on social engineering –allocating seats that preserve the delicate balance of seats for Dalits-OBC-SC-ST-Kurubas and minorities, the Congress’ traditional preserve. Dalits, incidentally, make up 20% of the votes across the state. Little wonder that everyone wants a piece of Babasaheb’s pie! The scale of Ambedkar birthday celebrations, the dead giveaway.
The BJP may have its own set of problems. But the Congress’ is an inbuilt pushback against outsiders that’s been multiplied a hundred-fold by Siddaramaiah, the ‘outsider’ bringing in more outsiders, particularly a stream of JD(S) cross-overs and moneybags like wealthy industrialists Ashok Kheny who could challenge Mallikarjun Kharge in his own backyard if they are given tickets to the aseembly and not the powerless upper house.
The Chief Minister’s criteria is this – he wants candidates whom he believes can win their seats. Not candidates who perpetuate the old guard’s fiefdoms. Not candidates who won’t back him when it’s time to pick a chief minister. The elephant in the room – a HD Kumaraswami pushing for his own man from the Congress for chief minister. No prizes for guessing who’s in the running against Siddu. Everyone!
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah came to power five years ago on May 13. In less than 30 days, he will know whether the next five years is his or someone else’s to call....