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September 16, 1999


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The Rediff Election Specials/ M D Riti

Rift between BJP and JD-U in Karnataka before counting begins

The votes they polled together have not been counted yet. But they are already in the midst of their first post-poll squabble. The state units of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Lok Shakti-Janata Dal (United) combine are at loggerheads in Karnataka over whose candidate will contest two of the remaining five assembly constituencies to go to the polls in October.

Both the candidates over whom everyone is fighting belong not to Ramakrishna Hegde's Lok Shakti, but to outgoing chief minister J H Patel's JD-U.

At the heart of the squabble is film star and minister Anant Nag, the man who told a month ago he was going to quit politics and the Dal. At that time, Nag, who has worked for the Janata Party in its various avatars for over a decade now, was in high dudgeon because his promised ticket had been sneaked out from under him by Shakti supremo Hegde when his present mentor Patel was in Delhi.

Nag rightly traces the genesis of that particular controversy to his old association with Hegde. Until about two years ago, Nag and state Shakti president Jeevaraj Alva were Hegde's two proteges and close friends, with Patel as the fourth member of the quartet. These four men were linked by common Anglicised backgrounds, similar interests and pursuits, as well as a similar style of politicking.

When H D Deve Gowda engineered Hegde's exit from the Dal, Alva, who had nothing to lose at that point, followed him at once. But Patel, then chief minister, and Nag, who had become his confidante and a minister, did not follow the duo. It was common knowledge they were closet supporters of Hegde and bound to line up on his side at election time. But this was obviously not enough for the hurt Hegde.

Come election time, Nag was asked to step aside in Malleswaram in favour of party colleague M Raghupathy, who was keen to contest from the actor's assembly constituency. "I was specifically offered Basavanagudi in its place," Nag says now. So he filed his nomination papers from there with much ado, only to have it turned down by the returning officer, who said Shakti general secretary Sriganesh had been declared by the alliance as its candidate for the constituency.

An angry Nag promptly told rediff he would quit politics and tell all on September 3, two days before the September 5 poll.

At this point, fate intervened, and Hegde's plans to teach his shishya a lesson were foiled. The Election Commission postponed the poll in five Bangalore constituencies including Basavanagudi. "We now have the unenviable task of having to campaign for 45 days," moaned Raghupathy to rediff, as we rode on Ananth Kumar's campaign vehicle.

Patel promptly took up cudgels with Hegde about Nag. Sriganesh withdrew from the fray, complaining openly that he was originally asked to contest, and now directed to withdraw, by Hegde.

Just when Nag and his supporters thought it was all clear, they discovered another nasty surprise. The BJP refused to withdraw its candidate K N Subba Reddy from the fray, insisting that Basavanagudi had been given to it in the seat sharing arrangement worked out in August.

Nag's is not the only constituency to face this problem. Prominent BJP MLA S Suresh Kumar, who was elected from Rajajinagar in 1994 with a decent margin, also found he had a Dal candidate, former student leader R V Harish, pitted against him.

How did this happen? The Dal-Shakti combine says according to their original arrangement, Bellary had been given to the Dal combine and the BJP had Basavanagudi. They say when Sonia decided to contest from Bellary, the BJP asked for that constituency for Sushma Swaraj, and they agreed readily.

"We asked for Kolar as a replacement, but the BJP said no," says state JD-U president C Byre Gowda. "Now all we are saying is, please relinquish Basavanagudi and Rajajinagar to us." Adds Hegde: "The BJP is being unnecessarily greedy."

"It was Hegde who suggested we field Sushma Swaraj from Bellary," counters Suresh Kumar. "Originally, the Dal was to field their man Thippanna from there. But they felt, when there were rumours of Sonia contesting from there, that we should put up a suitable candidate and defeat her. It is true they wanted Kolar instead, and we would not give it to them because we had a very strong candidate there. This is not the time or manner in which they should ask for their pound of flesh. Why ask for two assembly constituencies in place of one Lok Sabha seat?

"After all," he added, "we are supposed to have gone to the polls as an alliance, not just as a seat adjustment partnership. That means except for differing symbols, we are one in all other respects. We should not now become the laughing stock of all our opponents by squabbling even before the votes have been counted.

"Credibility is an important issue when you are hoping to form a government," Suresh Kumar continued, "and we should not lost that now. I hope the Dal will bear all this in mind and give in gracefully. Otherwise, our promise of unity will be like the empty promise of drinking water routinely made by sitting MLAs who have water released to their neighbourhoods on the day before the poll and have it stopped again the next day!"

It is an open secret that the BJP's Karnataka unit reluctantly accepted the Dal as its poll partner. "We could easily have won a majority in the assembly on our own," says state BJP president B S Yediyurappa. "We only partnered the Dal to help win more Parliament seats and strengthen Vajpayee's hands in Delhi. We did not need their support to fight an assembly election in Karnataka. We have kept our side of the arrangement, now it is up to the Dal to withdraw gracefully from this standoff."

George Fernandes rightly says it is now too late for the BJP-JD alliance to be in any danger as polling is over in Karnataka. If the verdict is in its favour, as all exit polls seem to indicate, they will obviously stay together and form the government. But how long will such a government last, given that there are such basic differences in the ideologies, styles and personalities of both parties?

The Rediff Election Specials

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