A five-ring circus in Karnataka

With so many parties contesting the upcoming assembly elections, a split mandate is likely

The three-ring circus was an American innovation where three simultaneous acts in the arena riveted circus-goers. This year in Karnataka, voters will see a five-ring circus with several sideshows thrown in.

One ultra-new political party is readying helipads and renting helicopters on the expectation that its key campaigner will be let out of jail on bail soon. Another has set off on a series of old-style padayatras. Leaders of two splinters of yet another political party are busy squabbling over which legislators are aligned with which faction. Amidst all this, one glamorous Kannada actor has quietly dumped one political party and jumped to another.

It is a new year, an election year no less, and there is the expectation of a brand-new Karnataka government in a few months. Yet, there is a sense of foreboding, rather than of expectancy, amongst the voters.

It is a muddy scenario and there are no less than five political parties contending for majority in the upcoming assembly elections. The ruling BJP itself has spawned two other parties recently. There is the BSR (Badavara Shramikara Raitara) Congress floated by B. Sreeramulu, former BJP minister and loyalist of the jailed mining baron, G. Janardhana Reddy.

What the party may lack in cogent ideology or agenda, it makes up for in brassy style. For instance, while Reddy's personal helicopter is in court custody and Reddy himself is in jail, the party is readying helipads and landing fields in remote, north Karnataka locations in anticipation of the helicopter and Reddy being discharged in time for the poll campaign. Lending a touch of glamour to the BSR Congress campaign is Kannada actor Rakshita.

How many of the BJP's votes the BSR Congress will grab is as yet unclear, but the other BJP offshoot, the KJP (Karnataka Janata Party), promoted by former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, is certainly giving the ruling party jitters. As analysts see it, Yeddyurappa is a Lingayat and might draw away BJP votes in the Lingayat-dominated northern Karnataka. But Yeddyurappa himself does not look too confident about what he'll be able to pull off. He has threatened to topple the Jagadish Shettar BJP government, claiming he has 40-50 MLAs a claim hotly disputed by the ruling party but has not followed through so far. In yet another sign of insecurity, Yeddyurappa has wooed popular Kannada actor Pooja Gandhi away from H.D. Kumaraswamy's Janata Dal(S). As an election sideshow, actors are much in demand in Karnataka these days. For instance, the popular Ramya is with the Congress.

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