Sunday, Dec 21, 2014

Congress vs Congress

Written by James Manor | Posted: May 1, 2013 12:57 am

In Karnataka,it may sabotage its chances in an election the BJP is poised to lose

In Karnataka,the Congress party has its best opportunity in over 25 years to win a state election. Three out of four opinion polls predict a majority for it in the state assembly. Leaders of all parties in the state agree that only the Congress might gain a majority. But will it?

There are reasons to be sceptical. Pollsters are usually fairly accurate when they predict vote shares,but they often go terribly wrong when they then estimate the seats to be won. This problem is especially acute in Karnataka because Congress voters are evenly spread across the state while support for its main rivals is concentrated in different regions.

The Janata Dal (Secular) is popular in the southern districts,while the BJP and former Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa’s Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP) draw most of their support from further north. Those parties are concentrating their efforts on 100 seats or less while the Congress campaigns for all 224. The BJP and the JD (S) are also training their guns on the Congress and not on each other,with a post-election alliance in mind. In 2008,the Congress gained the most votes but won fewer seats than the BJP. This time,it may do well in the vote share but still not win a majority of the seats.

Then there is the well established tradition of Congressmen sabotaging one another. In recent years,every major Congress leader in the state has felt a party colleague’s knife in his back,and most of them have responded in kind. Similar things have also happened among the party’s lesser leaders,who in some cases are clearly at it again.

Several months ago,in a rally in Karnataka,Sonia Gandhi stunned the state Congress leaders seated behind her on the stage by pleading with them to remain united and not to betray the people. Earlier this month,in private,she “read the riot act” to them again. She said that if infighting continued,they would end up without a majority,being “blackmailed by Deve Gowda” in a wretched coalition.

Despite this,there is hope for the Congress. No ruling party in Karnataka has been re-elected since 1985. Voters have even rejected governments that were quite good. The BJP government has been embarrassingly bad.

The Congress will also gain from Yeddyurappa’s determined vendetta against the BJP. He is carefully targeting not just BJP leaders,but their key supporters as well. Up north in Hyderabad Karnataka,the Congress may make gains not on its own merits but thanks to Yeddyurappa’s campaign of vengeance. Further south,however,in old Mysore,the Congress may be hard pressed by the JD (S),which has few problems with dissidents — far fewer than the Congress.

In 2008,an early 11 per cent lead in the popular vote for the Congress over its nearest rival shrank to 1 per cent by polling day. Now the Congress leads the BJP by 14 per cent and the JD(S) by 17 per cent in the most reliable poll. Those margins will probably shrink during the campaign,but continued…

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