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The Karnataka Assembly elections are less than a month away. All political parties are in the process of finalising their nominees for the 224 seats in the state. The general mood seems to favour the Congress party being in the lead with the BJP and the Janata Dal(S) being quite a distance away and the KJP and BSR Congress remaining at the margins. The decision of the Karnataka voters on the 5th of May, however, may surprise many.

The upbeat mood in the Congress is discernible. So is a uneasy nervousness, given the record of the Congress in Karnataka - one of converting 'sure' victories into 'hotly-contested' fights. The Congress could not have asked for a better political context - a ruling BJP haunted by a lacklustre performance and mired in internal squabbles provided a ready made recipe for success. The inability of the Congress leadership at the state level to seize the opportunity and demonstrate their unity was evidently visible in the open infighting witnessed in the choice of party candidates. There is strong resentment in the party on the candidates nominated for several seats. The party has been unable to take a call on critical seats. This, many would argue, is a typical challenge of a party that is seen as the likely future ruling party.

If the dissension as seen in the selection of candidates continues during the campaign, the party may find itself losing out on 'potential' support. The JD(S) has been working on consolidating on its strengths. The party has important pockets of influence in the Old Mysore region and parts of Northern Karnataka. It has the potential of denting the prospects of Congress candidates in key constituencies. It has delayed its choice of candidates in key constituencies on two counts. It is hoping to cash in on the dissent in the Congress in the main and also the BJP. Secondly, it is awaiting the announcement of candidates by the Congress and the BJP, to cash in on the caste calculations.

Whatever is left of the state BJP (desertions by sitting MLAs is happening with every passing day) is making every conscious to project a picture of unity. The split in the party has had its political costs and adversely impacted on the image of the party and the government. The party is now attempting to salvage whatever it can from the current situation with the strength and support of its cadres.

The Karnataka Janata Party (KJP) led by former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa is making an all out effort to carve out a political space for itself. Its leadership is consciously attempting to develop for the party (and himself) an identity across the state to dispel the impression that its (his) influence is limited to a community (Lingayats) and a region (Northern Karnataka). The KJP wishes to project itself as the nucleus of the 'third' front in Karnataka. It has not given up on its original agenda of ensuring the defeat of the BJP at the polls. The party (and its leadership) would, through the Assembly elections, hope to not just displace the BJP from its position as the ruling party but confine it to the political backburner. The influence of the BSR Congress seems to be confined to Bellary district and a few neighbouring pockets. These are also the regions where the Congress has had a traditional presence and would like to consolidate its support base.

Karnataka has been historically divided into six regions. The Bombay-Karnatak region consists of those districts which were part of the Bombay Presidency during British rule. This region has been a stronghold of the dominant Lingayat community. The BJP did exceptionally well in this region. This time around, the clash seems three-cornered between the Congress, BJP and KJP. There is a likelihood of the Lingayat vote being split between the BJP and the KJP which would work to the advantage of the Congress.

The HyderabadKarnatak region consists of those districts which were earlier part of the Nizam's territory. It is among the economically most backward regions of the state. Here the fight is principally between the Congress and the BJP which the JD(S) being strong in some segments.

The Central Karnataka region consists of areas which have saw the BJP putting up a creditable show in 2008. This is the region where the BSR Congress and the KJP have pockets of presence. The Congress too hopes to do well in this region.

Coastal Karnataka was handsomely won by the BJP in 2008. If the recent urban local body polls are any indication, the Congress is likely to perform well in this part of the state.

The Southern Karnataka region covers what was part of the Old Mysore princely state. Here the key contests are between the Congress and the JD(S). This is also the region where the Dominant Vokkaligas caste has a significant presence. The Bangalore region will see a straight fight between the BJP and the Congress in most constituencies with the JD(S) being the principal opponent of the Congress in several segments of Bangalore rural.

The strategies for the campaign are being carefully drawn up by all parties. The next one month is likely to be a period of exciting twists and shocking turns in Karnataka politics. But like I have written in the beginning, the month of 'May' may well hold a bag full of political surprises.



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More about Sandeep Shastri

The writer is a political analyst who is Pro Vice-Chancellor, Jain University, and National Coordinator of the Lokniti Network.
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