Bengaluru: The death of union minister Ananth Kumar, a six-time parliamentarian from the Bengaluru South constituency, leaves the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with a power vacuum in Bengaluru—one that could give the Congress an outside chance to reclaim lost ground in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The Congress has been eyeing a piece of the city that has firmly been under the control of the BJP. All three parliamentary seats in Bengaluru—North, South and Central—are with the BJP. The Congress is hoping to make inroads in these bastions, especially after it won 15 out of 28 assembly seats in the city during the Karnataka elections in May this year.
“If someone from his family contests, only then it could be in their favour," a senior Congress leader said, requesting anonymity.
Kumar won his first elections in 1996 against the Congress’s Varalaxmi Gundu Rao, wife of a former Karnataka chief minister, and held the seat till 2014 when he defeated Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani. But the party lost some ground to the Congress, including the Jayanagar assembly seat, in May.
Though active in public life through their not-for-profit organization Adamya Chetana, Kumar’s wife Tejashwini Ananth Kumar has steered clear of providing any indication of her interest in entering electoral politics, even though many party workers see her as the natural replacement.
Though Karnataka politics is caste dictated, urban centres—especially Bengaluru—have voting patterns different from other parts of the state. The state’s electorate also has a tendency of voting for different parties at state and national levels. For the Congress, holding on to Karnataka at all costs was important to help the party revive its sagging fortunes in Delhi.
The elevation of Dinesh Gundu Rao, a Brahmin, as president of the state Congress was seen as a strategy to broaden the party’s social spectrum to help in seats like Bengaluru South, which has a large number of middle-class Hindu households. According to the 2011 census, Bengaluru South has 88.23% Hindus, 7.03% Muslims and 4.12% Christians, among other categories.
The previous Siddaramaiah-led Congress government focused on the backward classes, but the incumbent coalition of the JDS-Congress has widened its social outreach, including a grant of ₹ 25 crore to establish the “Karnataka State Brahmin Development Board" and celebrating (Adi) Shankaracharya Jayanti all over the state.
According to Krishna Byre Gowda of the Congress, the party had a good chance to win both the north and central Bengaluru constituencies in 2009, if not for the wrong choice of candidates. Though the party corrected this in 2014, the “Modi wave" helped the BJP across the country.
Gowda had lost to Kumar by a margin of around 37,000 votes in 2009.
“A sympathy wave works mostly in bypolls and not in a general election," a Bengaluru-based political analyst said, requesting not to be named. He said the Congress had done well in both corporation as well as assembly elections in the city, including regaining seats like Jayanagar, and this gave the party a good chance to regain some lost ground.