Siddaramaiah will buck a trend and become the first full term Chief Minister of Karnataka since 2004. The Congress party in Karnataka will break a couple more jinxes in the forthcoming Assembly elections; I predict that it will be the first party in 32 years to buck the state’s historic penchant for anti-incumbency and return to power. Further, Siddaramaiah’s re-election in Karnataka will set the stage for the resurgence of the Congress nationally, breaking the jinx that whoever wins Karnataka loses India, a trend since the days of Ramakrishna Hegde. Here’s why.
First, Siddaramaiah has delivered. More than 90 per cent of the Congress’ manifesto promises stand redeemed. This track record stands out as a contrast to Prime Minister Modi’s poll promises which have been mere jumlas. Congress has provided an inclusive, stable and effective administration. There has been no major scandal or crippling dissidence over the last five years. Unlike the much-hyped Gujarat Model that benefitted only a few, the Karnataka model has assiduously worked for the have-nots through innovative social sector programs. Karnataka is the number one investment destination in the country, and Bengaluru is a vibrant, economic powerhouse.
Innovations in governance under Siddaramaiah range from agriculture to nutrition to industry and startups. The recent budget by Arun Jaitley has adopted some of these schemes. The Krishi Yantra Dhare scheme provides farm equipment on custom-hire basis, which has benefited 7.9 lakh farmers by reducing the cost by a third. As per the Niti Aayog, despite facing severe drought, Karnataka farmers realised 38 per cent more income in 2015- 2016 over 2013-2014. Karnataka’s Rashtriya e-Market Services has created a Unified Market Place across mandis, which the Centre is now rolling out as e-NAM. The Krishi Bhagya scheme promotes efficient irrigation by ensuring water availability during critical stages of crop growth along with rainwater conservation.
Similarly, IT and Biotechnology have received a fillip with their revenues clocking $50 billion. Karnataka has its own biotechnology and startup policies. Elevate 100, India’s first comprehensive entrepreneurship platform disbursed funds to a hundred innovative startups within a record three months. Grand Challenges Karnataka provided young problem-solvers a platform to find innovative solutions to pressing problems in the social sector.
Second, the main opposition party, BJP, is facing many problems. They have never been a dominant party in Karnataka unlike the Congress, which has a significant presence in every district. The RSS and Sangh Parivar is influential only in the coastal areas and cities. The BJP broke through to power in 2008 partly out of a sympathy wave when Kumaraswamy of the JD(S) reneged on his promise to hand over power to BJP. People wanted to give the BJP a chance. Further, its victory was not a sign of the state going communal. It was more a caste-based victory as the powerful Lingayat community rallied around one of their own, Yeddyurappa, who went on to form the BJP’s first and only government in South India. As for the JD(S), its strength is now confined to a few districts in the Kaveri basin.
BJP delivered one of the worst performing governments in the state, mired in rampant corruption and riven by dissidence. Their chief minister was changed thrice as factional fights pushed governance to the backburner. Ultimately the party split into three parts in 2013. Desperation has now brought these groups together.
Yeddyurappa became the first former Chief Minister to be jailed. His cabinet colleagues, the Reddy brothers who rode the mining wave in Bellary, also landed in jail. Other influential ministers, Katta Subramanya Naidu and Krishnaiah Setty were also jailed for corruption. Ex-minister Halappa went to jail on rape charges while three other ministers resigned when they were caught watching pornography in the Assembly. Overall, when one thinks of the BJP’s stint in power, it’s hard for people to summon up positive images.
Moreover, BJP has already declared Yeddyurappa as its CM candidate. He is widely seen to be past his prime, and is unlikely to rally the support he received in 2008. His jail term and the performance of his government has eroded his appeal significantly. The recent by-poll victories for the Congress in Nanjangud and Gundlupet, seats dominated by Lingayats, where Yeddyurappa campaigned for weeks is an indication of his dimin-ished hold.
Third, BJP has doubled down on divisive Hindutva and coarsened the political discourse. This does not work in Karnataka which is a liberal, peace loving state. Apart from pockets of the coast and hills, hardline communal campaigning by Yogi Adityanath and Ananth Kumar Hegde will generate a backlash against the BJP. Lokniti (CSDS) revealed that at least half of those surveyed (mostly Hindus) said that they count Muslims among their close friends. The cosmopolitan nature of urban Karnataka has always resisted the Sangh Parivar’s regressive agenda. Youth and professionals do not want their freedoms taken away. People were revulsed by the right wing’s celebration of the murder of Gauri Lankesh, an influential Kannada journalist.
Finally, Siddaramaiah has championed the cause of Kannada and Karnataka. He has taken a tough stand on the Kaveri and Mahadayi water issues. He has stood up against Hindi imposition. He has left the BJP with no option but to try and call him names, mocking his sleep apnea illness, for which he has been successfully treated. After the election, the one name they will still have to call him is Chief Minister!
Prof. MV Rajeev Gowda is a Member of Parliament and Chairman of AICC Research Department