Karnataka polls: Gateway to 2019     

This is not just another state election. What happens in Karnataka in 2018 will set the pitch for the grand fight between the BJP and the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections slated for next year     

NH Graphic
NH Graphic

NH Political Bureau

India eagerly awaits the outcome of the Karnataka Assembly elections, the simple reason being no other state election in recent times have turned so significant nationally. The battle for Karnataka, in fact, has transformed into a sort of a semi-final to national elections in 2019 for many reasons. First, it is almost a direct fight between the two national players, BJP’s electoral face Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who will again be leading the charge of their respective parties in the 2019 parliamentary elections. Secondly, the Karnataka poll results will set the tone for two more crucial state elections, those of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. The country will then be ready for the crucial 2019 parliamentary elections. So, Karnataka has become the gateway to the powerplay in Indian politics for now.

It does not mean that nothing else but national politics matter in the southern state currently engaged in the poll battle. Karnataka elections essentially remain a typical provincial battle with its own flavour and politics. It is a battle between incumbent Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and former Chief Minister BS Yedyurappa who are commandeering the Congress and the BJP forces respectively.

There seems to be consensus among political commentators that Siddaramaiah has an edge over not just Yeddyurappa but even the BJP’s biggest vote catcher Narendra Modi in this election. He is one of the few politicians in office who has managed to beat the incumbency factor. His social engineering AHINDA (backwards, Muslims and Dalits) has outwitted the BJP chief strategist and party president Amit Shah who is rated as an ace caste calculator in election times.

Siddaramaiah is one politician who has mastered every card needed to win an election. One needs to be on the right side of the poor to win an election in any part of India. Siddaramaiah already enjoys an image of a politician who stands by the poor. His Indira Canteen type of schemes have made him popular among the poor,cutting across faith and caste barriers.

He has taken on the BJP on its Lingayat caste base. Everyone thought that Siddaramaiah may have to pay a huge price for recommending minority tag for the Lingayats. But now everyone admits that he has managed to breach the Lingayat vote base of the BJP for the Congress in this round of elections.

But surely, it is no cakewalk either for Siddaramaiah. The Modi-Shah-Yeddyurappa trio is a mean political machine. Modi is a master speaker who knows the art of touching people’s chord through his oratorial skill. But he is finding Karnataka a hard nut to crack through his speeches because the turf is Karnataka and not another state from the Hindi heartland. Amit Shah may have managed to smoothen the internal rough edges of the state BJP by managing to keep Yeddyurappa and his number two together. But Karnataka’s various regions’ peculiar political demands are making his task of evolving a unified strategy for the BJP difficult. Yeddyurappa could be an old BJP war horse. But his image of not being a clean politician is giving his party’s election masterminds tough times.

Yet, the BJP is giving the Rahul Gandhi and Siddaramaiah team a tough time in Karnataka. The BJP is banking on its old electoral game-plan of divide and rule. Engineering Hindu-Muslim divide comes natural to the BJP. But it has so far failed to give a communal hue to the Karnataka polls. It is now playing up dummies like Mayawati and Owaisi to dent the Dalit and Muslim vote banks to chip off the traditional Congress support base. Amit Shah is said to be pouring in money to buy off poor constituencies. It is said in political circles that it is easy to win over through money power in southern states.

But HD Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal(S) remains the best bet for the BJP in crisis. Deve Gowda with his Vokkaliga support base remains the third critical factor in the Karnataka elections. It would not be out of place to remind the readers here that Gowda’s JD(S) tied with the BJP to grab the spot of the second largest party in the outgoing Assembly. The BJP and JD(S) together ran an alliance government in Karnataka between 2006 and 2007. Deve Gowda this time has already announced that his party will have no truck with the BJP even after the elections. But no one is willing to buy his statement as it is made to keep his Muslim constituency in the Old Mysore region intact. It is an open secret that Deve Gowda and Siddaramaiah don’t see eye to eye with each other as the former had left his old master and crossed over to the Congress from the JD(S) way back in 2006. If it is a hung Assembly, JD(S) is likely to tie up with the BJP just to stop Siddaramaiah from becoming the Chief Minister again.

So many imponderables have the necessary ingredients to turn the Karnataka Assembly election into a political potboiler. The Congress party is said to be maintaining a clear edge over its rival so far. It is the Rahul Gandhi and Siddaramaiah team that has been setting the poll agenda till now. Even Narendra Modi is responding to their speeches rather than making his rivals walk into his traps as has been his typical habit. But it will still be premature and foolish to say what happens when ballots are counted on May 15.

The mystery that still surrounds Karnataka elections makes the state elections all the more interesting as whatever the outcome may be, it will set the contours of national politics till the 2019 parliamentary elections.

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