By Harihar Swarup
The dirtiest-ever poll campaigning in Karnataka has come to a grinding halt. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP President Amit Shah came to personal levels, calling Congress President Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi names. Corruption charges, substantiated or unsubstantiated, were hurled at the Congress and its leaders. Even calm and composed former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to say that no PM had stooped so low as Modi. Rahul and Congress leaders retaliated ferociously but could not match torrent of abuses hurled at them by PM and Shah.
Observers say, the more polling day came near, the more desperate Modi became. Desperation is not a good sign if it shows PM is not confident of victory.
Assembly or general elections for over a decade show that people vote overwhelmingly for a party—be it the BJP or the Congress. The last general election and recent assembly poll in Uttar Pradesh amply demonstrated this new trend. Who would have thought the BJP would get such a massive majority in 2014 Lok Sabha election? Almost all poll projections and surveys were off the mark.
Many poll projections and poll surveys for the current elections have been done in Karnataka—some prematurely—but none reflect ground reality. The electoral trend of over a decade is most likely to be reflected when poll results are known on May 15. It will be either the Congress or the BJP. Congress has some advantage which may be reflected in poll outcome. When the BJP’s Chief Ministerial candidate BS Yeddyurappa is compared with Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, Congress appears to be having an edge. In 2008, Yeddyurappa had become chief minister after the BJP won 110 of 224 seats in the assembly elections. However, the triumph did not last long. Factionalism and corruption charges broke the BJP. Yeddyurappa was indicated in a mining scam and jailed.
There is remote chance of Deve Gowda’s party emerging as ‘king maker’.
If the Congress wins Karnataka, its victory in the year end poll in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh will be a cake walk. This may also brighten Congress chances of romping home in 2019 general elections.
In the event of BJP snatching Karnataka from the Congress, its chances of retaining Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh may brighten up. According to sources in the BJP, Narendra Modi may go for a snap Lok Sabha poll in December along with holding due election in the three states.
The outcome of the impending election may also be, to some extent, depend on Lingayats, who have a demographic share of 16-17 per cent in the state. Long identified with the BJP, the community is caught in a dilemma. The reason: the Congress’s overtures, recognizing it as a minority community distinct from the Hindu faith. Siddaramaiah stood to gain more from his ‘bhagya schemes’ aimed at the poor than by the so-called Lingayat card. The Congress challenge was strong in Tumkur district — that sends 11 legislators to the assembly — on account of such policies. Its candidates in the area include Pradesh congress chief, Dr G Parameswara and law minister TB Jayachandra.
The Lingayats have a presence in over 100 seats of north and central Karnataka with a decisive say in 60-odd seats. In comparison, Vokkalingas are greater in number in north Karnataka with a 12 per cent population share, are deciding factor in over 50 seats in old Mysore.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi has cast his hat into the ring of prime ministerial stakes following a general election, albeit in answer to a question and in a subtle and understated fashion. He said that he is ready to become PM, should his party emerge as the largest in the Lok Sabha elections. This marks a break from the erstwhile diffident style of both Rahul and Sonia.
In fact, there are signs that Rahul and Congress are learning from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP. The latter day in an electoral juggernaut with Modi and party President Amit Shah giving their 100 per cent in each poll campaign. But such a relentless, hands-on approach is alien to the Congress culture. The party had failed to grasp the changes in the Indian electorate and modes of campaigning. For example, BJP had clearly stolen a march over Congress on the social media front. However, Rahul’s team seems to be correcting this now and he himself is looking like a more engaged leader.
Of course, that by itself doesn’t ensure Rahul’s chances of becoming PM. There is still time before Lok Sabha polls and much will be depend on Congress’s performance in assembly elections from here on. If an opposition front is to be cobbled to take on the BJP in general elections, the question of who will lead it will inevitably come up. Modi’s highly personalized and presidential style of campaigning cannot be countered by the Congress and other opposition parties. (IPA Service)