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It’s all in the family

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It’s all in the family

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Congress candidate Prabha Mallikarjun campaigns in Karnataka’s Harihar.
| Photo Credit: The Hindu

There was barely even a murmur about nepotism or dynastic politics after the Congress announced its second list of candidates, teeming with sons, daughters, and relatives of incumbent ministers and senior leaders, for the Lok Sabha elections. This is not surprising, though: no party in Karnataka can claim moral superiority on this count.

While the Janata Dal (Secular) or JD(S) has always openly been a “family party”, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) too has not been a “party with a difference” despite all its tall claims. At the core of multiple rebellions in the Karnataka unit of the BJP in the run up to Lok Sabha elections is the accusation that veteran leader B.S. Yediyurappa, his son and party president B.Y. Vijayendra, and their coterie have a stranglehold on the party and choice of candidates. There are also at least five contestants who hail from political families in the BJP’s list. The top leaders of the BJP, who never tire of taking digs at the Congress on this count, and who used to be critical of the “father-son” JD(S) until the party allied with the regional party, have said little so far.

The Congress, after its leaders failed to convince incumbent ministers to contest, has ended up fielding the children of five Cabinet ministers in the second list of 17 candidates: Sowmya Reddy from Bengaluru South, Priyanka Jarkiholi from Chikkodi, Mrinal R. Hebbalkar from Belagavi, Samyukta Patil from Bagalkot, and Sagar Khandre from Bidar. Barring Ms. Reddy, all of them are in the electoral fray for the first time and under 35. The party has also fielded Prabha Mallikarjun, the wife of an incumbent minister and daughter-in-law of a powerful party veteran. All-India Congress Committee president Mallikarjun Kharge has bequeathed Kalaburagi, the segment he won twice before losing in 2019, to his son-in-law Radhakrishna Doddamani. And the announcement of ticket for the Kolar seat is hanging fire over Minister K.H. Muniyappa’s insistence that it be given to his son-in-law.

In the JD(S), as expected, two of the three seats that have come the party’s way as part of the coalition arrangement with the BJP is being fought by members of H.D. Deve Gowda’s clan. While H.D. Kumaraswamy is contesting from the high-profile seat of Mandya, his nephew and incumbent MP Prajwal Revanna is the candidate from Hassan. Mr. Kumaraswamy’s brother-in-law, C.N. Manjunath, is also in the race from Bengaluru Rural, though on a BJP ticket.

The BJP has been facing rebellion in many constituencies, especially in the districts of north Karnataka, after announcing its candidates, but the loudest critics flagging the issue of “dynastic politics” are senior leaders K.S. Eshwarappa and D.V. Sadananda Gowda. Ironically, Mr. Eshwarappa is miffed that his son has been denied a ticket, apparently because Mr. Yediyurappa went back on his promise, and has vowed to fight as an independent candidate against his elder son B.Y. Raghavendra, from Shivamogga. Mr. Gowda, MP from Bengaluru North, has been denied a ticket and Mr. Yediyurappa’s close confidante, Shobha Karandlaje, is contesting in his place.

Both leaders have been going out of their way to make it clear that their fight is not against Mr. Modi and that they are in fact trying to protect the core values he represents. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been fighting against the dynastic politics of the Congress, but here, the BJP is going the Congress way,” Mr. Eshwarappa said. But it escapes no one that the BJP high command’s decision to return the reins of the State party unit to Mr. Yediyurappa and his kin is a conscious one after its experiment of sidelining the senior leader failed. Mr. Yediyurappa may be the fall guy for now, but the buck stops with the national high command in the party hierarchy.

The Congress, meanwhile, has been talking about “winnability” as the reason for its choices, which has always been a euphemism for might and money. The party is not in an enviable position as its bank accounts have been frozen nationally by the Income Tax Department. This is being cited as one of the reasons to leave the local ministers and senior party leaders to their own devices; they are fielding their kin, funding them, and campaigning for them to ensure victory. Though there is no open rebellion against this trend, it bears no positive message for the party workers who don’t have powerful fathers and grandfathers to back them.

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