Poachers on the prowl as ‘Hasta’ hopes to pluck ‘Lotus’ in Karnataka
By Shankar Raj
Bengaluru: With just a day left for the counting of votes for the 224-member Assembly elections, poachers are on the prowl as ‘Hasta‘ (Kannada for hand, the party symbol) wants ‘Lotus’ (the BJP’s party symbol) plucked in Karnataka. The state has been witnessing hectic behind-the-scenes political activities since yesterday as many exit polls predicted a hung assembly. The rivals Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party are busy planning moves ahead of tomorrow when the results would be out even as phone lines of leaders and strategists kept buzzing.
Though the exit polls have given the Congress the pole position, the party is taking extra precautions not wanting to be out-manoeuvred by the ‘Lotus’.
Sources say that the Congress has chalked out ‘Operation Hasta’ to out-step any move of the BJP’s time-tested ‘Operation Lotus’ plan. In the past, the BJP used its ‘Operation Lotus’ effectively to induce MLAs from the Congress Party and the Janata Dal (Secular) to defect in order to form a government.
Deeply feeling threatened, a vulnerable JD(S) has devised plans to keep its flock together even as it is closely watching every move of the ‘Lotus’ and the ‘Hasta‘.
Former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda’s Vokkaliga-dominated party has made it clear that no national party can form a government in Karnataka without its ‘blessings’. The regional party, confined just to the Old Mysuru region, expects a 2018-like situation and is looking to align with either of the two national parties. However, the biggest challenge is to prevent an exodus of newly elected legislators even as the BJP and the Congress hang lucrative and hard-to-resist ‘carrots’ to get them on their side.
The JD(S) is looking at which of the two national parties can give it the ministries it wants and a greater say in the new government.
“The two national parties will definitely try to break our party as they will not get the required numbers to form the government,” said the former chief minister and JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy. He has made it clear that he is one of the front-runners for the chief minister’s post for the third time. “While we are cautious and are taking measures to keep our flock together, we will also ensure no party will be able to form the government without our help,” he reportedly said.
The All India Congress Committee (AICC) president Mallikarjun Kharge was quoted in the media as saying that the BJP would try to break his party if the Congress gets anything less than 150 seats. But the Congress Party too has drawn up a strategy to muster the required numbers in case of a fractured verdict. Senior functionaries say talks are already on with potential winners from the BJP and the JD(S).
“Let us be practical. While we are confident of securing a clear majority, we should be careful enough to prevent BJP from forming the government through the unethical way of getting MLAs from rival parties to crossover. Much has changed in Karnataka over the past five years, and BJP’s ploy will not be successful,” Priyank Kharge, chairman of the state Congress media committee, was quoted in the media.
It is apparent that the Congress Party has started learning lessons from a crafty BJP and has become more aggressive. “Our Karnataka unit is no longer the old Congress, which was milder and vulnerable to defections,” BK Hariprasad, leader of the Opposition in the legislative council and in charge of Congress’ campaign in the coastal region, was quoted in the media.
The BJP emerged as the single-largest party in 2018 but fell short of a majority by nine seats. While JD(S) and Congress formed a coalition government, BJP triggered the fall of the coalition government by inducting 17 MLAs from Congress and JD(S) into its fold. The saffron party formed the government in 2019.
On records, the BJP is putting up a brave face saying that it will now need anybody’s support as it will form a government on its own. But privately, party functionaries are not ruling out the 2019 type of scenario.
“The need for BJP to induct legislators of other parties will not arise since we will get a clear majority. The plan of Congress to implement ‘Operation Hastha’ will only be a pipe dream since they will not be able to wean away any of our MLAs,” said Shobha Karandlaje, convenor of BJP’s election management committee.
State Congress chief DK Shivakumar dismissed any move for a post-poll alliance with the JD(S). “Here the issue is price rise, corruption, good governance and development. We will form the government on our own. There is no chance of an alliance with JD(S),” he said. Brave words, but politicians know the art of eating their own words.
What will make a difference this time is that women voters seem to have moved to the side of the Congress, thanks to the promise of Rs 2000 dole every month to the senior most woman member in a family.
Similarly, the voter turnout among the Muslim community has been higher and this too may favour the Congress.
In the last 25 years – 1999, 2004, 2008, 2013 and 2018, only two elections produced a clear mandate – 1999 and 2013. Will it be the third time this year? Wait for Saturday, May 13, 2023, when the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) would start beeping out the numbers.