Most exit polls have put the Congress in the lead in Karnataka. But, the final deciding factor on result day on May 13 could be whether the Congress rode home on the momentum it built till April 26, or did the BJP manage to pull the election back in its favour in the last fortnight before polling on Wednesday.
The Karnataka assembly elections were clearly split into two phases, one dominated by the Congress and the other by the BJP. The first phase was before April 26 when the Congress clearly had an edge based on its strong “local” campaign – it focussed on the ‘40% commission’ charge against the BJP government and the ‘five guarantees’ offered to the public. The Congress had spent two months till April going door-to-door with its ‘guarantee card’, which promised cash doles to women and the unemployed, 200 units of free power, 10 kg rice per family and free bus rides for women.
The other phase was in the last fortnight where three ‘own goals’ by the Congress gave BJP a platform to once again be in the running while Prime Minister Narendra Modi set the narrative with his mega road shows in Bengaluru. The first own goal was on April 27 when Congress national president Mallikarjun Kharge called the prime minister “a poisonous snake”. The second was on May 2 when the Congress released its manifesto and promised to ban the Bajrang Dal. The third was on May 7 when the party’s official Twitter handle attributed the “sovereignty” remark to senior leader Sonia Gandhi, which she actually never said during a speech at an election rally.
Clearly, the Congress wanted to keep the campaign local to avoid a direct confrontation with Prime Minister Modi and the BJP, which wanted the narrative to be national via the “double engine” development pitch. It did succeed till their campaign peaked till April 26. But in the last 14 days, the BJP cashed in on the missteps by the Congress and the PM brought the party back in contention with the saffron camp feeling it had peaked at the right time.
A pointer to this was Kharge’s instant regret over his ‘poisonous snake’ comments on April 27 with the party realising that such personal attacks on Modi eventually backfire. The inexplicable decision to include a ‘Bajrang Dal ban’ promise in the Congress manifesto on May 2 made Hanuman the theme for the BJP campaign in the last week. Modi’s road shows on May 6 and 7 in Bengaluru and the BJP’s attacks on the purported ‘sovereignty’ remark by Sonia Gandhi further enthused the party’s rank and file.
Did these so-called setbacks for the Congress in the last two weeks cost them dearly in the final picture, as the BJP believes, or had the voter already made up its mind well in advance? This may well decide the polls.
An X-factor in the election could be the key Kalyan Karnataka region, popularly known as the Hyderabad-Karnataka region, and the Kittur Karnataka region, popularly known as the Mumbai-Karnataka region. Together, these northern Karnataka regions have 90 seats and some exit polls have predicted that the Congress could win big in these regions. The AXIS poll, for example, has predicted that the Congress could win 60 out of the 90 seats.
The Congress is banking on Kharge, who hails from the Kalyan Karnataka region and camped in Kalaburagi for a whirlwind campaign. Kharge had lost his Lok Sabha seat in this region for the first time in 2019. His Dalit (SC) credentials and his presence in Gulbarga could have worked for the Congress.
The Mumbai-Karnataka region, which has 50 seats, has been the stronghold of the BJP but senior Lingayat leaders like Jagadish Shettar from Hubli moved to the Congress. But the BJP feels it will retain its stronghold.