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The lobbies that matter in Karnataka
Vicky Nanjappa in Bangalore
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April 30, 2008

It is election time in Karnataka and even as the political parties are trying to sort out their differences regarding the distribution of tickets, the various lobbies in Karnataka have already sprung into action.

The political scenario in Karnataka was controlled for a long time by the liquor lobby. Elections in Karnataka and liquor lobby had become synonymous and not a single poll was fought without the blessings of this lobby.

However over the years the clout of the liquor lobby gradually came down and the real downfall of this lobby came in 2003 when the Karnataka government established the Karnataka State Beverages Corporation Limited. The corporation began plugging leaks in excise revenue. This meant that the sale of 'seconds' liquor came to a stop and with this ended the dominance of the liquor lobby.

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The liquor lobby gave way to the education and IT lobbies. While the clout of the IT lobby was short lived, the education lobby continues to make inroads into the state's political system.

The IT lobby was strongest during the S M Krishna regime between 1999 and 2004. This lobby however stayed away from active politics. They did not contest the polls nor did they have a say in party matters. They however had a great deal of influence on the government when it came to policy matters and grant of land. However, after Krishna's downfall, the lobby was ignored.  Several decisions such as the grant of land to IT majors were questioned by the new government.

The 2008 elections too are being controlled by the mining, real estate and education lobbies.

The mining lobby is considered to be the strongest thanks to its money power. Till around eight years ago, mining was not an attractive business. However, the mining lobby has grown in influence in the last five years thanks to the huge demand for iron ore from China. The mining industry turned hot overnight and moved quickly to the political centrestage.

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Janardhan Reddy from Bellary and some of his family members entered active politics and have become major players in the government. They had their share of candidates too in the previous government. There is also the Lad family, which holds considerable stake in this business.

The real power of this lobby was witnessed when it almost pulled down the Bharatiya Janata Party-Janata Dal-Secular government. Janardhan Reddy, a BJP MLC, threatened to expose Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy on corruption charges. This put the BJP in a spot of bother.

Annoying Kumaraswamy would mean that the government would collapse and rubbing the Reddy's the wrong way would mean that party funds would dry up. However, BJP party managers were able to manage the crisis and the Kumaraswamy government survived.

The mining lobby is dominant in the districts of Bellary, Chitradurga and Tumkur and now members of almost all parties have a stake in this business and over a period of time several MLAs have applied for mining licences.

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Sources told that the mining lobby will be responsible for financing the elections in six districts in Karnataka -- Bellary, Chitradurga, Hubli-Dharwad, Haveri and Tumkur. Sources indicate that the lobby would spend up to Rs 3,000 crore for the elections.

While the mining lobby will play a crucial role in the election prospects in north Karnataka, the southern part of the state will be controlled by the real estate lobby which has new found power status. With real estate prices soaring, the lobby has become extremely powerful. Till the previous elections persons belonging to this lobby controlled the scenario from behind the scenes. However this time the trend is changing and more and more persons from this lobby have demanded tickets from various parties.

Katta Subramanya Naidu and R Ashok of the BJP and Ramlinga Reddy of the Congress, all of whom have a background in real estate have been in active politics for the past several years. However this time, new names such as Kupendra Reddy, Nandish Reddy, Prasad Reddy and E Krishnappa have emerged.

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The real estate lobby will control the fortunes of the candidates in areas such as Bangalore (Urban and Rural), Ramnagar, Chikkaballapur, Kolar, Mandya and Mysore. This is primarily because the lobby spins most of the money in these areas thanks to the booming real estate prices. Sources say that the lobby is ready to spend up to Rs 2,000 crore during these elections.

The education lobby has primarily backed the Congress and hence most of the money is spent would be on the party alone. G Parameshwar from Tumkur, Shamnur Shivashankarappa from Davangere, S R More from Belgaum, M R Seetharam from Bangalore and R L Jalappa from Kolar are the prominent educationists who are also in active politics. All of them belong to the Congress. This lobby which was the most important till a few years back is waning in importance as the mining and real estate lobbies have grown in money power.

If one looks at the overall scenario, the two lobbies which will finally make the difference in Karnataka would be the mining and real estate lobby.

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