Karnataka polls: Political alternatives which could hurt the main contenders

AAP is fielding candidates in 213 out of 224 seats; KRS is contesting 199 seats

42-Chickpet-AAP-candidate-Brijesh-Kalappa-during Determined effort: Chickpet AAP candidate Brijesh Kalappa during a campaign on April 26, where disabled people came out in support of the party | Bhanu Prakash Chandra

IMAGINE THE CONGESTED Chickpet Market in Bengaluru getting a facelift like Delhi’s Chandni Chowk did. Or, all government schools in Karnataka getting an upgrade to become capable of giving private schools a run for their money. Or mohalla clinics that can save the poor from exorbitant charges at corporate hospitals. The Aam Aadmi Party is going all out to pitch its “Delhi model” to voters in Karnataka.

India’s newest national party is fielding candidates in 213 of the 224 constituencies―a giant leap from 28 candidates in 2018. Then, it had lost deposits in all 28 seats and got 0.6 per cent of the vote. But, it continues to attract volunteers and members from the educated class.

Brijesh Kalappa, AAP candidate from Chickpet, said the people were unhappy with the older parties and that the AAP could hope for five to 20 seats, especially in three- or four-corner fights. AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal visited Davanagere district in March and set the tone for the campaign by targeting the BJP. But, the AAP does not have a popular face locally and is reliant on star campaigners like Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann. The party claims that there is an acceptance for alternatives in north Karnataka, owing to gross deprivation of basic amenities in backward areas.

Meanwhile, the Kalyana Rajya Pragati Paksha floated by G. Janardhana Reddy can be a problem for both the BJP and the Congress in Kalyana Karnataka (Hyderabad-Karnataka). The 56-year-old, who spent 42 months in jail in the Obulapuram Mining Company case, is out on conditional bail. He floated the KRPP after the BJP leadership snubbed his overtures and denied him a ticket.

Janardhana is the youngest of the “Reddy brothers”―mining barons of the iron ore-rich Ballari district. They had a brief stint with the Congress, but their rise in politics came after backing Sushma Swaraj in her contest against Sonia Gandhi for the Ballari seat in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections. They built the BJP in Ballari, till the mining scam set them back.

Interestingly, the BJP has given tickets to Janardhana’s brothers―Somashekhara and Karunakara. The KRPP is contesting 49 seats. Janardhana, whose entry into Ballari is restricted by court order, is contesting from Gangavathi in Koppal district. His wife Lakshmi Aruna will take on Somashekhara in Ballari City. While his party does not have the cadre strength to win seats, it can eat into the votes of the Congress and the BJP.

The Karnataka Rashtriya Samiti, founded by techie-turned-anti-corruption-crusader Ravi Krishna Reddy, is fielding 199 candidates. Reddy, 48, who has earlier contested elections as an independent and on an AAP ticket, left his home last April to begin a state-wide election campaign. On April 24, he posted on Facebook: “I have not gone home for a year.... Family assets are dwindling and my blood pressure is shooting up. But, I am determined to pull through till May 10 as I have to continue campaigning and crowdsourcing (funds) for our candidates.”

The KRS Facebook page has 3.5 lakh followers and it has around 40,000 volunteers. Whether it makes a dent electorally or not, Reddy and the KRS have already made a difference. Reddy has exposed corruption through videos of officials taking bribes and though his initiatives have resulted in half-a-dozen cases against him, he has also managed to get some corrupt officers suspended.