Bengaluru, Aug 01, 2018 : In Karnataka, while disgruntlement over regional imbalance has always been a matter of concern, the demand for statehood for north Karnataka is yet to resonate with the people.
This is one of the reasons why the recent demand for statehood is perceived as an attempt to highlight the imbalance, rather than to split the state into two. However, those demanding the better political representation and fund allocation for north Karnataka are serious this time.
And it couldn’t have come at a better time for the BJP.
Although steering clear of the demand for a separate state, the BJP has taken up the regional economic imbalance as a political issue, eyeing the upcoming general election.
The pre-poll alliance between the JD(S) and the Congress threatens to take away some seats, especially in south Karnataka, where the margins of victory were narrow during the previous elections.
In the 2014 general election, the BJP had won 17 out of the 28 Lok Sabha seats and 8 of these seats were from north Karnataka. In order to make up for the losses in south Karnataka, the BJP will have to sweep north Karnataka.
In the 2018 election, the Congress’ decision to create a separate Lingayat religion had worked in the BJP’s favour. The BJP had campaigned alleging that former CM Siddaramaiah was trying to divide the Lingayat community, resulting in the BJP increasing its seats in the region.
This time, the BJP hopes the north-south economic divide will help them retain their dominance in the north during the general elections.
On Friday, 27 July, the agitation over the statehood for north Karnataka took a political turn. BJP MLA B Sriramulu, a mass leader from Ballari, warned Chief Minister Kumaraswamy to correct the regional imbalance and threatened that he would lead a movement for a separate north Karnataka state.
"If the CM doesn’t mend his ways I will be compelled to lead a movement for a separate state," he said, reminding people of Telangana’s movement, which saw success recently in carving out a separate state out of Andhra Pradesh.
But by then, BJP state president BS Yeddyurappa had taken up the issue. Although he distanced himself from the demand for separate state, he announced he will visit Belagavi district and meet protesters, to project himself as the crusader for north Karnataka.
The trouble began soon after Kumaraswamy presented his state Budget, which had limited allocation for north Karnataka. The budget was soon dubbed anti-north Karnataka, not only by the BJP but also by senior Congress leaders like HK Patil, who are from that region.
But dismay became disgruntlement, when Kumaraswamy in the Assembly said people of north Karnataka needed funds but didn’t vote for his party.
Apart from blaming the media for misquoting him and the BJP for fuelling the controversy, for over a week Kumaraswamy did not make any amends or hold any meeting with the protesters to address their concerns.
Under pressure from the Congress, on Monday 31 July, a meeting was held in Bengaluru, where he promised to shift some government offices to north Karnataka.
One of the reasons for Kumaraswamy and JD(S)’ silence on north Karnataka is that they have nothing to gain or lose from the region.
In the 2018 Assembly elections, the JD(S) won only 6 out of the 50 seats in north Karnataka and in 2014 general elections, the party won no seats. Also, the JD(S) doesn’t have any ambitions to spread its influence in the region either.
But for the Congress, north Karnataka is an important region. The party which won only three seats in 2014 general elections is trying to increase its tally in 2019. As the JD(S) doesn’t have any influence in the region, the onus of winning the region will remain completely on the Congress.
“Policies of Kumaraswamy will be of the coalition as well. The Congress party has asked the JD(S) leadership to find a remedy for the demand of the people from north Karnataka,” said a senior KPCC office bearer.
It will be the Congress which will have to face the wrath of north Karnataka voters in the upcoming general elections, if the JD(S)’ ignorance towards north Karnataka continues.