By Sushil Kutty
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, before she left for the United States to defend the Narendra Modi government on a number of charges levelled against the nine-year-old government, spent some time in poll-bound Karnataka and explained the special bond her party and her government shared with the state and its people. Ms. Sitharaman spoke of the “BJP’s attachment and concerns” for Karnataka; she could have added “in this election year”.
That being said, Sitharaman must know that the BJP’s ambition to repeat its government in Karnataka is weighed down by anti-incumbency and a slew of corruption charges, besides the usual Hindu-Muslim brouhaha laid at the BJP’s doors. Karnataka’s BJP Chief Minister, Basavaraj Bommai, hasn’t had a good night’s sleep for weeks, if not months.
Defending his government’s record isn’t easy. For the past couple of days, the party’s in the thick of ticket distribution for the May 10 assembly elections. Apparently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not happy with the first list and it had to go through amendments before it was released late in the night on Tuesday.
Not everybody knows that the Prime Minister is a hard man to please. Ask the tigers of Bandipur Tiger Reserve. Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent two and a half hours in the tiger reserve and not one tiger crossed the PM-jeep’s path. Modi-bhakts blamed driver Madhusudhanan. Others pointed fingers at the multiple layers of PM security. At the end of the day, Modi gave a clean chit to driver Madhusudhanan for not straying from the given sanitized route.
Modi chose right. Karnataka is politically too important to be trifled with a tiger-fight at this point in time. The BJP, Congress and JD(S) are the three main players. The result in Karnataka will set the trend for the remaining five states going for assembly elections in 2023. This includes Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. Going by gut feelings, the BJP might get a comprehensive dressing down in Karnataka this time.
Also, except for once, no political party has ever repeated government in Karnataka’s electoral history, what they call “successive mandate”. The lone exception was that of the Ramakrishna Hegde-led Janata Party government in 1985. To expect Basavaraj Bommai to do a Hegde is expecting too much despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s voracious, ferocious tiger-like obsession to win elections.
The BJP certainly faces tough odds in Karnataka. A close contest makes predicting results very difficult. The single-phase election gets over by evening on May 10. The exit polls will give an indication of what to expect on result day May 13. Even then, it will be three days and two nights of nail-biting though keeping the fingers crossed will be less stressful.
The Karnataka Vidhana Soudha has 224 seats with 112 as the majority mark. The BJP’s first list of candidates did not have many sitting names. Former Chief Minister and key Karnataka BJP leader BS Yediyurappa had a hand in making the list though the veteran leader wouldn’t be contesting the elections.
Another top BJP leader out of the reckoning is KS Eshwarappa, a former deputy chief minister. The thing to note is, even the corruption-splattered personality of Eshwarappa could not turn the Bharatiya Janata Party into a political-pariah in Karnataka. The 75-year-old has asked the BJP leadership not to give him a ticket, expecting one instead for his son.
Eshwarappa was why BJP leaders had to close their ears to shouts of “Pay CM” and “40%”, which was the commission government contractors had to shell out in BJP-ruled Karnataka. The suicide-death of a contractor almost derailed the government but even this failed to put an end to “40%”commission. No wonder, the BJP is apprehensive though keeping a brave face costs nothing.
The Lingayats (17 percent) and Vokkaligas (15 percent) have a reputation to tilt elections. Otherwise, OBCs (35 percent), SC/STs (18 percent), Muslims (13 percent) also hold the key to who will be elected. The BJP is on an all-out campaign to make “OBCs” the deciding factor in 2024 after the Surat court’s decision on Rahul Gandhi’s “Modi-OBC wisecrack”. The BJP’s attempts to weaponize OBC votes will be tested in Karnataka.
The Lingayats are the politically-dominant sect and key player in deciding 100 seats. Yediyurappa is a Lingayat. The 2018 assembly election results are often cited to hit out at the BJP’s post-poll depredations with ED/CBI. In 2018, it was a hung assembly and the BJP the single largest party. But Yediyurappa quit just before the trust vote and a Congress-JD(S) coalition formed the government under JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy. This government lasted just 14 months, giving the BJP opportunity to form a BJP government led by BS Yediyurappa, who Bommai replaced.
The issues for this election include corruption at the top of the list. The “BJP’s scams”, and “40 percent commission”. The Congress was hoping Adani-Hindenburg issue would be a huge thing, but the BJP appears to have successfully staved off the challenge for the time being. Scrapping the “4% Muslim quota” and distributing it equally between Lingayat and Vokkaliga is being called as the “BJP’s masterstroke” by Amit Malviya’s IT Cell. Muslims have been transferred to the EWS category. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in the United States said Indian Muslims are ecstatic living and working under Modi rule. (IPA Service)