Hegde's mid-course deviation to co-opt Patel, 30 ministers and an equal number of ruling party legislators could cost the alliance a couple of parliamentary seats and many assembly segments because of the ensuing confusion and rebel candidates. The partners have flouted with aplomb a seat-sharing pact which entails 18 Lok Sabha and 129 assembly seats to the BJP, and 10 Lok Sabha and 95 assembly segments for the Janata Dal (United)— comprising the J.H.Patel faction and Hegde's erstwhile Lok Shakti. In Patel's a ssembly seat, Channagiri, for example, the BJP prompted its leader Vadnal Rajanna to contest, but disowned him rather than ask him to retire in Patel's favour, when the segment came under the JD(U)'s quota. The same situation obtains in Hegde's hometown Sirsi, where excise minister P.S. Jayawant would rather take on BJP candidate Vivekanand Vaidya than bow out of the race. Such contests are on in one parliamentary seat and at least 30 assembly segments, but state BJP chief B.S. Yediyurappa feels "further talks are necessary" before the party could ask its candidates to retire .
This forced marriage brought about by Hegde has upset the plans of his party men . Originally, they had worked out a strategy to wrest power from a woefully-divided JD: project Hegde as the CM-in-waiting, but play second fiddle to the BJP in terms of number of seats to be contested. But Hegde rushed with his plan to woo Patel and Co so that he could bargain for more seats. He could also get even with his bete noire, former prime minister H.D.Deve Gowda. Rues Jeevraj Alva, Hegde's Man Friday: "The whole idea was to invite Hegde to lead the campaign. With this arrangement I admit there's confusion among the workers."
Hegde, however, is confident that the confusion would be sorted out before the first phase of polling. "We'll win 145 to 150 seats," he says. Alva's projection falls way short of his leader's. "If you had asked me 15 days ago, I would have said we'll win two-thirds majority in the assembly. We may just make it because of factors like taking on the Congress, the number of rebels in the fray, the confusion," says Alva.
The BJP's unhappiness stems from Hegde's overtures to Patel. Wa ry of anti-incumbency sentiments, they fear that Patel would be a liability rather than an asset. Senior state unit leaders describe how home minister L.K. Advani was livid over Hegde's strategy to rope in Patel. It was after several meetings between Alva and Advani, and later Hegde and defence minister George Fernandes that Advani consented to this new alliance. The state unit leaders were keen to contest the elections, having gradually increased their tally from a mere 7.9 percent votes and 18 seats in the '83 assembly polls to 17 percent and 40 seats in '94, and from 24.85 per cent votes and six seats in '96 to 38.44 per cent and 16 seats for the BJP-Lok Shakti combine in '98. "There 's a pro - Vajpayee wave in the state. I'm confident we'll form the government here," says Yediyurappa .
HOWEVER another factor that could dent the prospects of this alliance is its proLingayat posture. Patel and Yediyurappa belong to this community and so do almost a 100 of their 224 candi-dates. Lingayats constitute about 14 percent of the state's population but are clearly outnumbered when compared with the backward classes (38 per cent), the scheduled castes and tribes (24 per cent) and the minorities (13 per cent). "This (large number of tickets to the Lingayats) is causing us concern because it could cost us the support of the backward classes in some places," admits a Lok Shakti leader.
Not to be outdone, the Congress has given tickets to 55 Lingayats for the assembly segments. "This is to send the message that the Congress will not ignore them," said a party leader. The Congress too is scared of the enemy within. There were 2,000 aspirants for the 224 nominations, and many who did not make it are toking trouble for the Congress. Even in a constituency like Bellary, the party is facing rebellion in three of the eight assembly segments. But the rebels are working for the success of Sonia Gandhi.
However, a positive development for the party is that for the first time since '89 all the heavyweights— S. Bangarappa, M. Veerappa Moily, C.K. Jaffer Sharief and Marg are tAlva— have put aside their differences in the runup to the assembly and Lok Sabha polls. Such unity among the leaders has increased the possibility of the party wresting power. Says PCC chief S.M. Krishna, who's a frontrunner for the chief minister's post this time: " We ' re pitching our hopes to about 20 seats. We'll reclaim many from among the BJP seats because neither Kargil nor Vajpa-yee's charisma hold sway in most parts of Karnataka. Nor was Sonia Gandhi a candidate and in command of the Congress earlier."
Besides, the party has already salvaged most of its support base which had shifted towards the JD in '94. Its performance has been on the rise in the Lok Sabha polls held in '96 and '98— the party polled 36.22 per cent and won nine of the 28 seats against 29.3 per cent and five seats in '96. Besides, the JD split could not have come at a better time, for the Congress has always gained from such fissures. Admits Krishna: "We have an edge in these triangular and multi-cornered contests."
Funds is one thing neither the BJP-JD(U) nor the Congress is worried about. The alliance has been spending between Rs 2 to Rs 4.5 crore in each parliamentary constituency; the Congress is matching the astronomical sum in almost every seat.
What's more, beer behemoth UB group has gifted Krishna a Toyota Landcruiser for electioneering.
One party moaning the lack of resources , but still likely to grab a few seats is the rump group of Deve Gowda. Gowda is using his acumen to make the most of the confusion within the alliance and Congress and his calculations based on caste composition. Gowda vows he's treading equidistant from the BJP and the Congress, but has made things easier for the latter in many ways. He has campaigned in only one assembly segment of Bellary, and asked his nominee to re t i re in Maddur, where Krishna's in the fray. His gameplan: secure 15 to 20 assembly seats and extend outside support to the Congress in the event of a hung assembly. The BJP, he thinks, could lose because of its "illegal, immoral alliance" with the JD(U). "On its own, the BJP had got 36 per cent votes (in '98). "
But Gowda is struggling to retain his parliamentary seat, Hassan, and the Dal's loss in the other two Lok Sabha seats could improve the tally of Congress and the BJP-JD(U) alliance.