Krishna’s task in Karnataka: convert hype into votes

March 10th, 2008 - 11:23 am ICT by admin  

(News Analysis)
By V.S. Karnic
Bangalore, March 10 (IANS) The return to Karnataka politics of S.M. Krishna, who resigned as Maharashtra governor last week ahead of the assembly elections slated for May, has generated heartburn among some of his fellow state Congress leaders, apart from a lot of hype in the media. However, it is the hype and not his colleagues’ heartburn that should worry Krishna as he tries to revive the sagging fortunes of his party ahead of the polls.

Somanahalli Mallaih Krishna, the media-savvy, tennis lover, Fulbright scholar and socialist-turned-Congress leader, was perhaps aware of his colleagues’ response to his return to state politics. He may have also known that hype was building in the media about his return but the task now is to convert it into votes in the poll.

At 76, the always nattily dressed, soft-spoken Krishna is taking a big risk as his failure to bring the party back to power could well mean an end to his political career.

The build-up to his return does give him an advantage over other state Congress leaders though. A substantial section of Congress workers and supporters will now look up to him for guidance and leadership rather than state party chief Mallikharjun Kharge.

Since Krishna’s return has been approved by the Congress high command, Kharge knows he has little option but to go along with the change, hoping that in the event of the Congress regaining power on its own or in coalition, Krishna will back him for the post of chief minister.

Kharge, though not happy with the prospect of his influence and stature within the party being curtailed by Krishna’s presence, knows that a majority of those opposing Krishna’s return are not leaders with a strong mass base or support within the party.

This weakness of the opponents is what makes Krishna not to worry too much about their heartburns and possibility of these leaders rushing to Delhi with complaints against him to the party high command.

Krishna has a mixed electoral record. In 1999 he led the party to a huge win, bagging over 130 of the 224 seats and became chief minister. Five years later the party suffered a disastrous defeat, winning just 65 seats.

Krishna was sent to neighbouring Maharashtra as governor in December 2004 and had ever since been pressing the party high command to let him return to the home state or for a role at the central level.

According to Congress leaders themselves, Krishna’s main task is to win over detractors and assure the several chief ministerial aspirants that he has had his innings in the post and is no longer interested in it.

Besides the delicate balancing act within the party, Krishna faces a much stronger Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which won 79 seats in 2004 as against 44 in 1999.

His bitter political rival will, however, be fellow Vokkaliga community leader, former prime minister and JD-S president H.D. Deve Gowda.

The JD-S is a bit low on morale after it brought down two successive governments it had formed in coalition, first with the Congress and later with the BJP.

But Krishna knows it would be a mistake to write off Deve Gowda who excels in the art of keeping both his supporters and adversaries guessing on his moves.

Both the BJP and the JD-S have dismissed Krishna’s comeback as of no consequence to them. In fact, both claim it will be an advantage for them as infighting in the Congress will only increase.

“His return will fuel the infighting. Even Congress leaders (former railway minister C.K.) Jaffer Sharief and (Congress general secretary) B.K. Hariprasad have said Krishna was responsible for the party’s defeat in 2004,” BJP’s B.S. Yeddyurappa says.

JD-S leader and former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy says: “People rejected him when he fought the elections based on his four-and-a-half-year performance.”

Krishna’s own party men also remain critical.

“One man cannot work wonders. He has to take all Congressmen along. We had won 135 seats in 1999. He broke the BJP and the Janata Dal to increase the Congress strength. Where was the need for it? See what happened in 2004,” Jaffer Sharief says.

Krishna also has to work hard for an image makeover. He was accused of being Bangalore-centric when he was chief minister during 1999-2004.

And to the glee of his detractors, Krishna abandoned his rural home constituency of Maddur in Mandya district and chose to contest the 2004 assembly poll from Chamarajpet, one of the oldest localities in Bangalore.

He won comfortably but his party lost and the urban-centric image continues to haunt him as he returns to lead his party in the poll battle.

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