By Kalyani Shankar
All eyes are on the forthcoming Karnataka Assembly elections, for which polling will be held on May 10, and the results will be announced on May 13.
The outcome will determine the prospects of the two leading contenders – the ruling BJP and the Congress ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. The third political party in the state JD(S) will also assess its strength.
In a neck-and-neck fight, most opinion polls indicate Congress has the edge over the BJP. Intelligence sources have also projected 80 to 90 for BJP, 90 to 100 for the Congress, and 30 to 40 for the JDS.
Karnataka faces a three-cornered contest between the Congress, BJP and the Janata Dal (S). Stakes are high but more so for the BJP and Congress. The new entrant Aam Admi Party is also contesting all the seats.
Winning Karnataka would indicate the crucial Congress revival. It will give a moral boost to the Party, which currently rules in only three states- Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh.
A defeat would be a setback to the ruling BJP, which has been on a winning spree, even in the three Northeastern states polls last month. Karnataka is the only BJP-ruled state in the South.
Former prime minister Deve Gowda and his son, former chief minister Kumaraswamy, are battling to retain their JD(S) supremacy in the old Mysuru region and their kingmaker role.
It will not be a walkover for either national Party as they face intense factionalism and indiscipline.
The BJP is solely dependent on Narendra Modi’s magic. The Prime Minister has visited the state several times, inaugurating various schemes and addressing Poll rallies.
BJP is looking to the support of octogenarian former chief minister Yediyurappa. The Lingayat strongman can sabotage the BJP’s chances in the highly caste-ridden politics. The BJP got its first chief minister in the South when Yediyurappa won the state in 2008. Unable to sideline him, the BJP has made him a Parliamentary board member after he was asked to pave way for Basavaraj Bommai last year.
The BJP faces three challenges-Anti-incumbency, corruption and lack of chief ministerial face.
The BJP is defensive on the anti-incumbency. Karnataka has never elected the same Party consecutively in assembly elections for more than two decades. Secondly, it has never given a majority to the same Party in consecutive Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
In the caste arithmetic, Vokkaligas constitute 15 percent, OBCs 35 percent, SC/STs 18 percent, Muslims 12.92 percent, and Brahmins about three percent. Vokkaliga votes will be divided between JDS, Congress, BJP, and others.
Lingayats (15 per cent) dominate as many as 100 of 224 constituencies. Until 1989, they supported Congress. However, they moved away after the sacking of the then Chief Minister Veerendra Patil by Rajiv Gandhi.
Congress’s strategy is to woo specific interest groups like women. It mobilizes support from Kuruba, Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, Muslim, and OBC communities. Secondly, Congress’s vote share has never been below 26% votes in the state. Even in 2018, the Congress’s vote share stood at 38.04 percent.
Thirdly, Congress has made an aggressive and defiant move with Rahul Gandhi planning to launch his Karnataka campaign with the April 5 rally in Kolar. His Bharat Jodo Yatra and the recent court verdict resulting in disqualification of Rahul Gandhi from Lok Sabha membership f have increased his acceptance.
As for BJP, the Bommai government has increased quotas for SC and ST by four and two percent. The Lingayats and Vokkaligas also got a two percent hike each. The Bommai government has announced up to Rs 3,000 per month for families below the poverty line. It has offered ₹ 1000 per month for female farm workers, free bus passes to 30 lakh women in the organized sector, and 8 lakh girl students.
On the negative side, the BJP is defensive on the Poll issues like Inflation, price rise, farmer problems, and unemployment. Real estate, sand, and mining mafias also need to be fixed. The Bommai government is allegedly known as a 40 percent commission government..
Parties are showering freebies on the voter. As per the recent trend, money is not a consideration, as all the parties are willing to spend vast amounts. Congress has already guaranteed 4 things. They are – 10 Kg Foodgrains, 200 Units Of Power, Rs 2000 for a Woman Family Head, and Rs 3000 For Graduates. The new entrant AAP has announced free electricity, free water, agricultural loan waiver, unemployment insurance @ Rs. 3000, and free bus pass for women in urban areas.
With the parties desperately trying to woo voters with political promises, new schemes, and gifts, the big question is how much the voter would get swayed by them. The verdict known on May 13 will have catalytic effect on the next round of assembly elections in 2023 and finally on 2024 Lok Sabha polls. (IPA Service)