Congress sideshows could damage prospects in Karnataka

April 17th, 2009 - 10:01 am ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party Bangalore, April 17 (IANS) The Congress campaign in Karnataka has been overshadowed by niggling sideshows that could dampen the party’s efforts to regain the ground yielded to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the last parliamentary polls.
The Congress is for the first time facing the Lok Sabha polls in Karnataka with the BJP in power in the state. It is banking on party president Sonia Gandhi and general secretary Rahul Gandhi to help reverse its fortunes as its Karnataka unit does not have any leader with an all-state appeal.

From winning an overwhelming number of the 28 seats in the state for years, the Congress decline began in 1996 when the Janata Dal shocked the party by bagging 16 seats.

The Congress fought back to win 18 seats in 1999 but lost out to the BJP in 2004 by getting just eight seats. The BJP won 18 and the Janata Dal-Secular two.

A major row, pushing the Congress campaign to the background, is on about who should head the party in the state assembly. Former state Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge was the party’s legislative wing leader and leader of the opposition in the assembly.

He was asked to resign as former deputy chief minister Siddaramaiah, who crossed over to the Congress after a bitter feud with Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) president and former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda, is keen on being rewarded with a top post in the state unit for joining the party.

Siddaramaiah is an influential backward class leader. He belongs to the ‘Kuruba’ (shepherd) community which is spread all over Karnataka.

Kharge has also been forced to contest the Lok Sabha from his home district Gulbarga which is reserved for the Scheduled Castes. Though Kharge resigned over the weekend, Siddaramaiah has not been appointed.

Congress sources say Siddaramaiah has been told that he will get the post vacated by Kharge only if the party puts up a good performance in the polls on April 23 and 30.

The Congress has also sought to douse any dissatisfaction among Scheduled Caste voters by appointing another party leader from the community, G. Parameshwar, as its campaign committee head.

Voting in 17 constituencies takes place April 23 and for the remaining 11 seats April 30.

The other sideshow is the only two women Congress candidates in the battle, Margaret Alva and Tejaswini Gowda, have been left to fend for themselves.

Alva, sacked as general secretary over her serious charges of party ticket being sold during the 2008 assembly polls in Karnataka, has been fielded from the Uttara Kannada constituency.

State Congress president R.V. Deshpande, who hails from the constituency, was keen on his son Prashant getting the party ticket. He has not so far campaigned in Uttara Kannada, and Alva has been sarcastic about it. “He has to look after 28 constituencies,” she has said.

Alva, who had lost the last Lok Sabha elections, is pitted against BJP Lok Sabha member Ananth Kumar Hegde.

Tejaswini Gowda was remominated to contest from Bangalore Rural in the face of stiff resistance by her mentor and state unit working president D.K. Shivakumar. Like Alva, she has been campaigning on her own.

She faces a formidable opponent in former chief minister and JD-S state president H.D. Kumaraswamy, the son of Deve Gowda.

A minor sideshow is about the Congress media cell head and former chief minister M. Veerappa Moily, the nominee from Chikkaballapur in south Karnataka. Moily hails from coastal Karnataka and is fighting off the tag of an outsider.

Former chief minister and former Maharashtra governor S.M. Krishna, who belongs to the influential Vokkaliga community dominant in southern Karnataka, Monday ended weeks of speculation about his non-participation in the party campaign.

In spite of his denials, speculation was rife that he was keen to contest from Bangalore South to take on BJP general secretary and four-time winner H.N. Ananth Kumar. The party chose its youth wing president and US-educated Krishna Byregowda - Rahul Gandhi’s choice - to face Ananth Kumar.

Krishna, popular as the ‘urban face’ of the Congress, campaigned Monday for another Congress veteran and former railway minister C.K. Jaffer Sharief in the Bangalore North constituency. On Tuesday, he sought votes for Byregowda in Bangalore South.

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