Something very peculiar is happening in Karnataka politics for the first time in three decades. A state that has seen triangular electoral contest has now turned into a direct fight between the Congress-Janata Dal (S) combine and the BJP.
Karnataka is the only southern state where the BJP has struck roots and has established itself as a political force.
Under pressure in the north, due to the SP-BSP alliance in Uttar Pradesh that is certain to cost the BJP seats in the country’s most populous state and also suffer reverses in other Hindi belt states, now ruled by the Congress that elected mostly BJP MPs last time, the BJP wants to make up its losses from newer territories. Karnataka in South, where the BJP won 17 out of the total 28 on offer in 2014, was one such region where the BJP was looking to maintain its tally, if not improve it.
But the first jolt to this plan came from the Congress leadership that offered the CM’s post to Janata Dal (S) and cobbled up a majority. The second jolt came when the coalition government was found tottering but even then, it managed to stave off determined bids to topple the government.
The memories of the BJP’s Operation Kamala 2.0 are fresh in the minds of the people as half of the state goes to polls on April 18 and the other half in another phase on April 23. Congress leader and former CM Siddaramaiah harps on this issue to show the naked ambition of BS Yeddyurappa, state BJP chief and former Chief Minister, to get back the throne by all means – fair and foul.
Electoral arithmetic dictated the coming together of Congress and JD (S), to form a government and to keep the BJP out.
Since then, Yeddyurappa has not been keeping quiet. It is his hyperactivity to destabilise and topple the government that Siddaramaiah is using as his top talking point to attack the BJP and then upping his ante against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“Modi has been lying and making empty rhetoric in five years. There is not a single achievement in these five years,” Siddaramaiah charges.
Arithmetically, on paper, the Congress and Janata Dal (S) combine is unbeatable.
If the 2018 Assembly figures are to be taken into consideration, the vote share of the Congress and JD(S) together works out to a whopping 56 per cent compared to 36.4 per cent of the BJP. Even if we take the wave elections of 2014, which the Congress and JD (S) fought separately, the combined vote share of the two coalition partners came to 51 per cent. The BJP, with 43 per cent vote share, won 17 seats.
The main issue today is whether the coalition will work on the ground, especially when the two parties are engaged in fierce battle against each other for the past several years.
For the Congress, this time, the challenge is more to keep its cadres working shoulder to shoulder with the cadres of JD (S). Combined, the leaders of both parties as also those of the BJP are aware that the coalition is home, fair and square.
It is no rocket science but only a question of simple arithmetic. But in elections, simple arithmetic alone is not enough. There has to be chemistry on the ground as well. The biggest challenge for the Congress and the JD (S) is to get the cadres of both parties working together smoothly, thinks Professor PS Jayaramu, a political analyst formerly associated with the Political Science department of Bangalore University.
“If the alliance works on the ground, then the BJP is clearly in for a rough time,” Prof Jayaramu said, adding: “Even then, the BJP could come down to 11 at most.” But even to contain the BJP and blocking its growth in the only state that it could enter in the south will be a big victory for the Congress–JD (S) combine.
In fact, the fear of the future is something that will bind the two parties together. Already BJP state president BS Yeddyurappa and his men have launched a whisper campaign that after May 23, the Karnataka government will be sent packing and, in its place, a BJP government will be formed. This, explained another political analyst, was nothing but attempts at perception building as also a ploy to demoralise the cadres of the Congress and the JD (S).
Precisely to prevent that, the leadership of the Congress and the Janata Dal (S) have held joint campaigns by AICC president Rahul Gandhi and former PM and JD (S) supremo HD Deve Gowda to send out a message to the cadres to come together and fight the election.
April 13 will see Rahul Gandhi coming again for another round of joint campaign with Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy.