While there seems to be little doubt that Karnataka will have a Congress government,what happens next is unclear
Obviously disillusioned by decade-long instability and mal-administration in Karnataka,voters stormed into polling booths in record numbers to vote with a vengeance earlier this week. The state registered a 70 per cent voter turnout in the assembly elections,the highest in three-and-a-half decades. That cannot be good news for the corrupt,inept and wobbly BJP government of the last five years.
The Congress is scenting a conquest,with the exit polls showing the party at about 110 seats,where it needs 113 seats to take it to a simple majority out of a total of 224. Party analysts are now confidently forecasting a larger triumph with around 130 seats. While there seems to be little doubt that Karnataka will have a Congress government,what happens next is a bit blurry.
If it does make it comfortably past the halfway mark,the victorious Congress will have to get to the next hurdle: choosing a chief minister. Two Congress leaders who have openly declared themselves to be aspirants are leader of opposition Siddaramaiah,who belongs to the backward Kuruba community,and G. Parameshwar,Karnataka Congress chief,who is a Dalit leader. The former seems to be the favourite amongst partymen.
Meanwhile,in Delhi,two Union ministers are equally strong chief ministerial contenders,despite being in the shadows. Mallikarjun Kharge,a 10-time election winner and current labour minister,is looking to make a comeback to his home state and so is his colleague,Petroleum Minister Veerappa Moily. The question,however,is whether the Congress party in Delhi can spare any efficient,able Central ministers at this point in its scam- and controversy-ridden tenure.
Some partymen are saying that choosing a chief minister might turn out to be a bigger challenge for the Congress than winning the assembly election. A few local strongmen wish to see a ballot in the Congress Legislature Party to pick a chief minister. A secret ballot could accentuate local divisions but it has been done before,and could boost Siddaramaiahs chances. Some see Siddaramaiah as an able administrator and an independent-thinking,strong leader who speaks his mind. This particular characteristic is worrying top leaders in Delhi. That may,again,lead to a slip between the proverbial cup and lip for Siddaramaiah,and lead to Delhi picking from the other aspirants,increasing Parameshwars chances dramatically,followed by those of Moily and Kharge. Whoever is chosen chief minister,a lot of heartburn is guaranteed.
That brings the Congress to its next hurdle,ministry formation. That is where local leaders preferences and Delhis influence are expected to hold sway. If the Congress gets a clear mandate,voters expectations will ride on the ministry. Hopefully,the ministry will not turn out to be just a mathematical play of the usual switch-and-swap along caste and regional lines,like the Congresss recent assembly ticket distribution exercise,but rather a mix of strong and efficient ministers who can deliver.
The Congresss next big tribulation will be governance itself. A decisive BJP defeat and,conversely,a Congress victory will signal voter frustration with bad governance. The new governments task is cut out for it. Karnataka badly needs a good administration that can rein in corruption and revitalise development. Long-term thinking on infrastructure and a comprehensive development plan for Bangalore need to be a vital part of the new governments agenda. In Bangalore,young,educated voters turned up in unprecedented numbers to vote,as the latest voter tallies show. The city is in dire need of a rejuvenation plan.
If it wins big when results are in today,the Congress party would like to believe that it rode to victory on a pro-Congress wave,and not because of the anti-incumbency wave against the BJP working in their favour. The Congress will have another chance to prove its popularity soon enough,as Lok Sabha elections are due in less than a year. Karnataka boasts of an unusual election record,decisively electing one party at the state level and the opposite party at the national level in consecutive elections. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections,the Congress won a measly six of the total 28 Karnataka Lok Sabha seats. That should be reason enough for the Congress to pull out all stops to provide a good government in Karnataka in the hope that it will provide the much-needed momentum to smoothly transport not just the Karnataka party,but also the national party,through the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
As the hour of reckoning draws close,peoples expectations are sky high,say nervous Congress leaders. If the Congress wins,it has no option but to deliver a squeaky clean,efficient administration in Karnataka. If voting trends are any indication,the voters are not merely expecting it,they are demanding it.