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The crucial element for the Congress in Karnataka, besides getting its messaging right, is the contour of its pre-poll pact with the Janata Dal (Secular). In the southern Karnataka districts of Mandya, Hassan and Tumkur, the party has been hard-pressed to defend its decision to back a candidate of the JD(S). Can the two parties successfully pull off a transfer of votes with joint candidates, is the big question.
“At the level of bringing party workers together, there is a challenge and it will be interesting to see how they manage that,” says political commentator Sandeep Shastri. In Mandya, the Congress has to ensure its party workers don’t gravitate towards actress Sumalatha, an Independent candidate, while in Hassan, a Congress rebel is now the BJP’s nominee against joint candidate Prajwal Revanna. Besides, in Tumkur, where JD(S) supremo H.D. Deve Gowda is contesting, the sitting Congress MP has rebelled by filing his nomination. “The seat-sharing arrangement has created more problems than anticipated,” says political analyst A. Narayana.
But Congress leaders are optimistic. “It’s a win-win situation. By joining hands, we are sure of winning 16 seats at least,” says a leader who wishes to remain anonymous. Karnataka has 28 Lok Sabha constituencies, of which the BJP currently holds 16, Congress 10 and JD(S) two. “We have been addressing the local dynamics, especially uniting leaders and workers of the two parties, by holding regular meetings. Somewhere, we need to compromise to keep the BJP away.” Eshwar Khandre, working president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee, adds: “Our message is definitely reaching the people. You may not see them coming out on the roads, but in the elections, they will teach a lesson to the NDA government for its wrong decisions.”
The real challenge for the Congress could be the Old Mysore region, not so much in northern Karnataka, where most of the BJP’s Lok Sabha seats come from. In the north, the JD(S) has a marginal presence, making it a direct fight between the two national parties. The Congress, Shastri reckons, has its narrative going somewhere. “But I don’t think its capacity to capture the voter mindspace is as efficient as the BJP’s.”
By Ajay Sukumaran in Bangalore