|HOME | ELECTION | CONSTITUENCY|
|September 10, 1999||
The Rediff Election Specials/ Krishna Prasad
Coalition politics takes a bizarre detour in Chamrajnagar
Political scientists baffled by the early expiry dates on coalition products need look no further than this reserved constituency in south Karnataka, where neither Sonia Gandhi's origins nor Kargil nor stability is going to decide the outcome but old-fashioned caste considerations that have been given an almost improbable twist in this election.
Two old foes of rival parties and rival castes have joined hands to beat their old party in a charged-up constituency.
For nearly 20 years now, Chamarajanagar, named after the Mysore king Chamaraja Wodeyar, has been a heady caste cauldron, with the scheduled castes firmly pitted against the majority Lingayats. After electing a dalit Congressman four times in a row, voters plumped for a Lingayat Janata Dal candidate in the last two elections.
The script for 1999 is something even the most imaginative Bollywood writer wouldn't have thought up.
When the bearded Srinivasa Prasad was first elected with a huge majority in 1980, there were many who saw shades of Ram Vilas Paswan in him. Indeed, the dalit MP seemed to be living up to his potential by winning again and again, and seemed destined for a spot under the sun in New Delhi.
But when P V Narasimha Rao ignored him for a ministerial berth in 1995 and the Congress subsequently denied him the party ticket, Prasad contested the 1996 poll as a rebel candidate. But in the interim, dalit-Lingayat equations in the constituency had undergone a paradigm shift, thanks to riots in a village called Badanawalu.
Prasad who, as MP, had been as accused of doing little to prevent the Lingayats from being targetted paid the price at the hustings, and A Siddaraju of the Janata Dal got lucky. Whodunnit? The finger was pointed at M Rajashekhara Murthy, the quiet Lingayat leader, who was said to have ensured that members of his community did not vote for Prasad.
The Congress revoked Prasad's suspension from the party in time for the 1998 election, but the ground realities remained unchanged. Lingayats stayed away from Prasad, Siddaraju of the Janata Dal won again. Humiliated, and suspecting Murthy's hand in it, Prasad left the Congress, and joined Ramakrishna Hegde's newly-launched Lok Shakti.
Meantime, Murthy was beginning to feel the heat in the Congress under Sonia Gandhi, as Vokkaliga leader S M Krishna's stars began to soar, with the party even projecting him as the chief ministerial candidate. So as the 1999 election dawned, Murthy quit the Congress, and joined the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Around the same time, J H Patel had pulled the rug from under H D Deve Gowda's feet. Sitting MP Siddaraju opted to stay in the Deve Gowda faction, but Hegde's Lok Shakti and Patel's Janata Dal (United) were both in the BJP's boat: the National Democratic Alliance. Suddenly, old foes Prasad and Murthy were on the same side!
What is more, as per the Lok Shakti-BJP seat sharing arrangement, the Lok Shakti got to put up its candidate. Prasad was its chosen nominee. Suddenly, Murthy, the man who had allegedly caused Prasad's downfall in the last two elections, was holding the megaphone for his bete noire, all in the name of coalition politics.
For a while, respite from the embarrassment of campaigning for his old enemy was around the corner for Murthy as the BJP toyed with the idea of putting him up against Sonia in Bellary. But with Sushma Swaraj flying in, even that escape-route was closed. Murthy had to come to Chamarajanagar to canvass for Prasad.
Electoral arithmetic of the one-plus-one-equals-two kind that politicians practice, and the press plays up, suggests that Prasad, with the votes of the dalits and Lingayats adding up, should have it easy. But will old wounds heal so quickly at the altar of convenient politics, especially after the region has seen another round of caste riots?
Murthy made a good start by calling on his former foe when Prasad's mother passed away recently. But the two not only have to contend with their own egos and the rivalries and apprehensions of their rank-and-file in putting up a united fight against their common enemy, the Congress, but also the formidable Janata Dal (Secular).
Prasad himself is more sanguine: "Whatever the result, I am confident that our alliance will go a long way in improving dalit-Lingayat relations."
The question, as with the alliance, here and everywhere, is for how long?
ELECTION 99 |
SINGLES | BOOK SHOP | MUSIC SHOP | HOTEL RESERVATIONS | WORLD CUP 99
EDUCATION | PERSONAL HOMEPAGES | FREE EMAIL | FEEDBACK