By Anjali Chhabra
As for the national parties like the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress (INC), the May 10 Karnataka Assembly elections hold the key to the future of smaller players like Janata Dal-Secular (JDS) at a time when analysts are waiting to draw inferences from the poll outcome about the various possibilities in the 2024 parliamentary elections.
The high interest in Kannada voters’ preferred party to form the next government assumes significance in the backdrop of the 35-year-old electoral superstition that the party which wins Karnataka Assembly elections never manages to capture the Delhi darbar. Going by this belief, the stakes seem to be the highest for the ruling BJP and the opposition INC.
From the Congress party’s perspective, there is added pressure on its new party president Mallikarjun Kharge to deliver the goods to his home state. His confidence in yielding results stems from the convention followed by Karnataka voters of not handing down back-to-back victories to any party since 1985. Also, Kharge needs a leg up before preparing to lead the grand old party in the Herculean task of stopping Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah‘s Vijay Rath (Victory Chariot) in the Lok Sabha (House of the People or the lower house in the bicameral parliamentary system of India) elections.
Interestingly, Congress insiders indicate that in Karnataka the party is going to follow the Himachal Pradesh model of relying more on local star campaigners –- a sweetened way of suggesting that party leader Rahul Gandhi is being nudged not to fall back on his rhetoric on collusion between the PM and troubled industrialist Gautam Adani.
As he did in the Madhya Pradesh assembly polls five years ago, Rahul seems to be sticking to his strategy of presenting a Hindutva face as he visits temples like Sangamnathan in Bhagalkot. He is also regularly raking up the alleged corruption issue in the state where he brands the Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai-led dispensation as “40 percent BJP government” – a cryptic comment about the alleged bribe demanded by ministers in government contracts.
Rahul has coined a slogan for Karnataka voters which broadly means that the “40 percent government will be reduced to 40 seats in the state and the Congress will touch the 150-mark” in the 224-member assembly.
Visibly both the BJP and the Congress are focussed on wooing Karnataka’s politically powerful Lingayat community while JDS’s popularity among Vokkaliga has given it the confidence of emerging as the ideal kingmaker in case of a hung assembly.
But whether former Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda‘s party will be able to play a similar role at the national stage in the Lok Sabha contest will be decided on May 13, the day the Karnataka Assembly poll results will be declared. A lacklustre showing by the JDS in Karnataka would virtually mean the end of the road for the party’s parliamentary aspirations.
Smaller parties like the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which recently earned national party status, are aiming to make a dent in urban centres like Bengaluru and Mysuru –- a move that may hurt both the BJP and the INC, and may distort the final tally in the assembly results. But the troubles faced by its tallest leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, and his ministerial colleagues, including his deputy Manish Sisodia, on corruption charges in what’s now hammered by the BJP as the “Liquor Scam” may keep the AAP tied up in Delhi politics.
In the current 224-member assembly, the ruling BJP has 123 members, the Congress has 65, and JDS 26. The rest 10 seats are vacant. The party positions were very different at the time of the 2018 elections when the BJP emerged as the single largest party with 104 seats but could not form the government, allowing the Congress and the JD(S) to form a coalition government. The coalition government collapsed within 14 months, giving BJP a chance to wrest the chief minister’s office, albeit, after several leaders from rival parties donned the saffron colour.
Strategists in all parties are also keeping a close watch on the dissatisfied leaders in rival outfits for possible coordination after the results are out. Infighting too remains a common factor among all the three key parties. If the switchover by former BJP chief minister Jagdish Shettar and deputy chief minister Laxman Savadi, both Lingayat leaders, poses a headache for the BJP, then Karnataka Congress party chief D. K. Shivakumar and former chief minister Siddaramaiah’s friction is panning out to be tricky for their party.
The BJP’s decision to try 72 new faces out of the 224 seats has given these six dozen dumped party contestants from 2018 a valid reason to aspire for the visibly greener grass on the other side. As things stand now, the ruling Karnataka BJP appears to be on the defensive in the run-up to the elections, as it has been forced into firefighting after its veteran leaders like Shettar and Savadi joined the INC.
The ruling party is relying heavily on former chief minister and tallest BJP leader in the state B. S. Yediyurappa (BSY) to counter the Congress campaign of injustice to Lingayat leaders in the BJP. The old warhorse from the RSS stable is likely to address almost four dozen rallies in Hubli–Dharwad Central and Athani from where Shettar and Savadi are contesting elections. There is also talk of a rift between BSY and the party’s national general secretary (organisation) and Karnataka man B. L. Santosh over the latter’s overarching role in ticket distribution to the poll aspirants.
A long list has also been drawn to ensure BJP campaigners regularly visit Lingayat mutts across the state to counter rivals’ similar attempts. Party leaders belonging to the community have also been assigned the task of refreshing bridges with the heads of Lingayat subsects.
The BJP is also trying hard to encash on senior INC leader Siddaramaiah’s controversial remark that the current chief minister (Bommai, who belongs to the Lingayat community) is the root of all corruption in the state. The ruling party is projecting the Congress leader’s remark as an attempt to brand the entire community as corrupt.
The ruling BJP was also on the backfoot over the projected clash between milk products brands — Nandini of Karnataka and Amul, which has its origins in Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state. The INC had slammed the BJP of trying to give an easy entry to Amul into territories currently served by Nandini, thus doing injustice to millions of Karnataka farmers and denying them livelihood.
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has come to the defence of the BJP by claiming that Amul entered Karnataka when there was a Congress government in the state. She reiterated that improving the lot of Karnataka dairy farmers and strengthening the Nandini brand would always remain the supreme objective of the BJP and for this healthy competition between Nandini and Amul should always be welcomed, just as the former brand’s products too are available in other states of India.
The saffron brigade seems to be banking heavily upon Modi’s charisma to win votes and highlight the BJP state government’s decision to scrap the four percent Other Backward Classes quota for Muslims in the state — an attempt to woo the Hindu voters. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, BJP national president J. P. Nadda, and Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan will also add to the party’s firepower.
The BJP government’s decision to split the now scrapped four percent quota equally between Veerashaiva-Lingayats and Vokkaliga communities is part of a well-thought-out strategy to win over the powerful communities, who would now stand a better chance of getting jobs and admissions in educational institutions. Despite the party’s national leaders denying any link between the upcoming elections and the scrapping of the quota there is rumbling that the drastic move was taken to retain voters, who seemed to be swinging to the other side in view of possible anti-incumbency.
That the results of the Karnataka Assembly elections will be announced on May 13 is a known fact but political analysts believe, like the last elections, the formation of government and possible reorganisation of party-wise strength in the assembly may not actually be over till several months after the next chief minister takes the oath. The outcome of the parliamentary elections in May 2024 may also have a bearing on the Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru — India’s very own Silicon Valley.
One outcome in Karnataka that punters would love to bet on is that the Member of the Legislative Assembly, who takes oath as the next chief minister next month may not be the occupant of the office when the next assembly elections are due in 2028, unless a midterm poll is foisted on the electorate.
Categories: Party Politics, Politics, Top News
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