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11 May 2017 Editorial


11 MAY 2017

The power of two

Karnataka's political future

Karnataka's political future will hinge on how the BJP and Congress deal with factionalism

When elections draw near, rivalries within parties intensify. As Karnataka prepares for next year's Assembly poll, front-line leaders of the two principal contenders for power, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, have begun pressuring their national leaderships for a bigger say in ticket distribution and in the election campaign. In the BJP, the factional fight is between the State unit president and former Chief Minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa, and senior leader K.S. Eshwarappa. Mr. Yeddyurappa, who managed to extricate himself from the legal tangles that arose out of corruption cases, is the frontrunner for the chief minister's post in case the BJP wins. But when Mr. Eshwarappa criticises the "unilateral style" of Mr. Yeddyurappa, he strikes a chord with many in the second line of the party. The BJP, which had lost heavily when Mr. Yeddyurappa broke away from the party before the last Assembly election, did well on his return in the Lok Sabha election three years ago. The party is therefore in no mood to jettison the former Chief Minister; Mr. Eshwarappa cannot hope for much more than a prominent role as second fiddle. Mr. Yeddyurappa retained the upper hand during the State executive of the party in Mysuru, even if his rival made a defiant appearance. In the absence of any encouragement from the national leadership, Mr. Eshwarappa has turned more conciliatory. But the fissures run deep and cannot be easily plastered over. Mr. Eshwarappa and his Sangolli Rayanna Brigade, a supposedly apolitical platform of Dalits and Backward Classes, will continue to exercise pressure on the chief ministerial aspirant.

In the Congress too, the leadership issue is more or less settled. Denying Chief Minister Siddaramaiah another shot at power would only weaken the party further. In any case, in the latest round of by-elections he held his own against a marauding BJP. But factional pressures and caste dynamics are in full play as the process of identifying a person for the post of president of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee rolls on. After replacing former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh with K.C. Venugopal as the national leader in charge of affairs in Karnataka, the Congress is trying to plug the weakness in the organisational structure and bring together all factions. But there is simply no way to please everybody. Even if Mr. Siddaramaiah's rivals are willing to reluctantly accept his candidature for chief ministership, they are likely to want someone who could stand up to him as the next KPCC president. The Congress leadership may see a benefit in having two power centres. Karnataka 2018 might turn out to be a fight between Mr. Yeddyurappa and Mr. Siddaramaiah, but the election will be won and lost on how those lower down the hierarchy pull their weight.


A new day in Seoul

South Korea's new president faces many challenges

South Korea's new president faces many challenges, but offers a reason for hope

The election of the moderate Moon Jae-in as South Korea's President marks a decisive break from the bitter divisions and scandals that unsettled the country's administrative and political equilibrium in recent months. Mr. Moon won 41% of the vote, almost double that of his nearest rival. In the wake of the polarising tenure of his predecessor, Park Geun-hye, who was ousted through the impeachment route, he appeared conciliatory during the election campaign, emphasising the need to move on. Indications of Mr. Moon's willingness to engage with the troubling issues in the region came after he was sworn in on Wednesday, when he declared his intention to visit Pyongyang and hold discussions with Washington, Beijing and Tokyo. With this, the veteran human rights lawyer struck a positive note for the kind of multilateralism required to lower tensions in the Korean peninsula. The bold announcement should allay the apprehensions of sceptics who would have assumed that Mr. Moon may be rather soft towards the North, as well as those who feared that engaging Pyongyang could alienate the U.S. The fact remains that any realistic prospect of containing North Korea's nuclear posturing depends on two inter-related factors: marginalising the hawks in Washington and impressing upon Kim Jong-un's regime the economic and political consequences of defying multilateral norms.

Mr. Moon's other big regional challenge is the U.S.-backed installation of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-missile system on South Korean soil. Interception of North Korea's increasingly sophisticated missile launches is behind this, but the development has raised concerns in Beijing, which thinks the THAAD radar could undermine its own defence infrastructure. Assuaging such Chinese fears will not be easy and Beijing would like nothing less than the complete withdrawal of the defence shield. Although Mr. Moon has promised to renegotiate the THAAD installation, it is premature to speculate on Washington's response. But a more rapid restoration of cultural, tourism and trade relations between Seoul and Beijing appears possible given Mr. Moon's accommodative stance. Peaceful coexistence is imperative among neighbours, a consideration that will hopefully prevail over other factors. At home, Seoul has in recent months been rocked by the influence-peddling scandal involving Ms. Park and executives from top business houses, leading to her eventual ouster. After rallying a large number of citizens behind the unprecedented protests, the President has raised expectations of a more transparent and accountable corporate governance culture in South Korea's conventional chaebol system of family-owned businesses. In realising that unenviable task, Mr. Moon can count on a demonstrably vibrant and independent judiciary and an effective parliament. It will not be smooth sailing, but there is reason for hope.

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