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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 17, April 22, 2023

2023 Karnataka Assembly Elections: Handling of ticket distribution by the Parties | P. S. Jayaramu

Saturday 22 April 2023, by P S Jayaramu


by P. S. Jayaramu

(18th April,2023)

As the election fever gathers momentum, we need to recognise the fact that though the contest is largely bipolar between the ruling BJP and the Congress Party; the third player the Janata Dal (S ) can not be ignored which in essence has made the battle tripolar or bipolar plus, if we can describe it that way. I will return to this theme later.

First let me address the issue of selection of candidates by the BJP. Lending legitimacy to the fact that caste plays a crucial role in elections, the Party has given tickets to lingayats, vokkaligas and the other caste groups, like the Scs, STs, and the OBCs in that order, though this time round, the Party has given more tickets to vokkaligas raising it from 36 in the last elections to 41 plus (at the time of writing) to breach the JD (S ) stronghold.The Party ostensibly followed the American nominations model by inviting applications from the aspiring candidates and compared it from its own inputs about them through the studies it had conducted. But, going by the selections made by the Party’central leadership, it appears that the Prty wanted to go by the Gujarat model of selection of candidates by dropping the seniors and those who had lost in the 2018 elections. That explains the 62 new ‘faces’ the Party brought into its final list of candidates. In the process, the central leadership decided to deny, among others, tickets to two of its key senior leaders from the northern Karnataka region, Jagdish Shettar and Laxman Savadi, former chief minister and deputy chief minister respectively. Both of them resigned from the primary membership of the Party and joined the Congress. No less a person than the BJP’s supreme leader in Karnataka B. S. Yediyurappa said before Shettar’s exclusion from the list that his exclusion might cost the Party 25-30 seats in the region. Shettar himself has put the figure at 20-25. Be that as it may, Shettar and Savadi would go around campaigning that the lingayats have been sidelined by the central leadership.

The Congress would naturally capitalise on the issue, with already senior lingagat leaders like M. B. Patil talking about the betrayal of the community by the BJP’s top leadership. If that perception sticks in the minds of the regional electorate, it would be hard for the BJP to retain its dominance seat-wise. For the Congress Party it is a God-sent opportunity to dent into the lingayat hold in the kittur Karnataka and Kalyan Karnataka regions and derive electoral benefit. Prime Minister Modi and Amit Shah will have a tough time convincing the voters of northern Karnataka region about the humiliation heaped on senior leaders like Jagadish Shettarand Laxman Savadi, more so because in one of his recent visits to Belagavi, Modi had criticised the Congress’s central leadership for humiliating senior leaders like S. Nijalinappa and Veerendra Patil in the past.

Additionally, the BJP’s criticism of the Congress Party about proomoting dynasty in the giving of ticket for elections lacks credibility as the Party has itself given tickets to family members of those denied tickets in as many as ten constituencies in the upcoming elections. As a matter of fact, giving tickets to family members has been a common feature of all the three contending Parties. Dynastiic Politics is a thriving element of Indian Politics at the national and state levels.

As regards the Congress Party, the distribution of tickets was handled by the Party high command consisting of the AICC President Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi by involving D. K. Shiva Kumar and Siddaramaiah, the State Party President and the Leader of the Opposition respectively. The other senior members of the ticket selection committee like Veerappa Moiley and Dr. Parameswara reportedly played no role in the candidate selection process. As aspirants to the CM’s ‘gaddi’, Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah we’re mainly interested in getting tickets to their supporters, with an eye on their support in the CLP meeting in the election of chief minister if the Party succeeds in capturing power. That apart, the Party has accommodated more lingayat candidates this time to appease the voters of the community. It has also taken care to protect its voter-base by accommodating candidates from the SC, ST, and OBC groups. Anti-incumbency, unemployment, price rise and the social disharmony that is being injected by the BJP, thanks to its vigorous pursuit of communal polarisation, are the issues on which the Congress is taking on the ruling BJP.

The Janata Dal (S) ‘s handling of the distribution of tickets was marked by the feuds within the family, specially over the choice of candidate for Hassan, where one of Deve Gowda’s daughter-in-law was bent on getting the ticket. With lot of persuasion by the Party patriarch, Deve Gowda, and the consistent stand taken by Kumaraswamy, the ugly tussle for the Hassan seat was resolved and the ticket was given to a Party worker. A more serious issue with the JD(S) is desertions by some senior members, like A. T. Ramsswamy, who walked over to the BJP and the Congress Party and are contesting from those Parties. At the same time, a few from the rival Parties have joined the JD(S ) and have been projected in ‘winnable’ constituencies. How much the Party benefits from these developments remains to be seen.

The tripolar or the bipolar plus character of state politics, as I described in the beginning, can be understood by looking at the electoral history of Karnataka ever since the State witnessed Coalition Government in 2006, when the Dharam Singh-led Congress Government resigned. The JD(S) was part of the Coalition government twice in the State and on both occasions, Kumaraswamy managed to occupy the chief minister’s post.

 The controversial manager in which the BJP has handled its ticket distribution task is leading to a situation where the prospects of a fractured mandate seem to be increasing. A few surveys, like the ones conducted by the Peoples Pulse and Jan Ki Baath have pointed to a hung assembly while one survey ( C- Voter Group ) has predicted a Congress Government with the Party bagging between 115-127 seats. It is worth watching how the generally mature and secular voters of Karnataka will vote this time round.

(Author: P. S. Jayaramu is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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