Karnataka Crucial for Congress, BJP

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These results may signal the trend of 2024 general elections

(Anita Saluja)

Winning the Karnataka Assembly elections, slated for May 10, is crucial as much for the Opposition Congress, as it is for the BJP, which is in power both in Karnataka and at the Centre. Karnataka Assembly elections results on May 13 could signal the likely trend in the General Election in 2024, when the two national parties, the Congress and the BJP which are in contention in Karnataka, will clash for power at the Centre.

The Karnataka Assembly elections have wider political ramifications, as this is the first contest, between the BJP and the Congress, after Rahul Gandhi’s successful completion of his Bharat Jodo Yatra from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, besides the sympathy factor, following his recent disqualification from Parliament and eviction from his 12, Tughlak Lane official bungalow in the Capital. This has led to an image makeover for Rahul Gandhi. If it manages to win Karnataka Assembly elections, the Congress would be in a position to build upon the momentum created by these events.

The Congress needs to win Karnataka, if it has to convincingly push ahead with its efforts to bring about Opposition Unity. An electoral win in a major State like Karnataka could boost the Congress morale, as it attempts to unite the Opposition, in order to take on the seemingly invincible BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Significantly, the Congress lost Governments to the BJP, in Madhya Pradesh and in Karnataka, besides in Maharashtra, where it was part of the State-level Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi Coalition. Similarly, the Congress lost to the Aam Admi Party (AAP) in Punjab. After such a string of setbacks, the electoral success in Himachal Pradesh is a small consolation for the Congress, which needs to win a bigger State, if it has to remain in the reckoning in the General Election in 2024.

It is only a convincing electoral victory in Karnataka that could bring back hope in the dispirited and desolate ranks of the Congress. The Congress is struggling hard to put up a united face. But, the Chief Ministerial ambitions of Karnataka PCC President D K Shiva Kumar and former State Chief Minister Siddaramaiah could cast a shadow on the party’s poll prospects.

The BJP, too, is desperately trying hard to retain power in Karnataka, which is the only State, South of the Vindhyas, where the Saffron Party has a strong base. The BJP described Karnataka as the Gateway to South India, hoping to expand its base in other Southern States.

If Karnataka slips out of its control, then it could be a jolt to the Saffron Party. It could upset its own strategy to win new States in the South, especially in Telangana, where the State Assembly elections are due later this year. The BJP is working hard to reassert its Double-Engine Government theory. This is the formula of the BJP to expand its footprint across the States.

As such, winning Karnataka is equally important for the BJP. The Saffron Party lost power in Himachal Pradesh and in Punjab. It needs to retain power in the major State of Karnataka, if it has to retain its political advantage. With the Opposition still in disarray, the BJP is far ahead in its preparations for the General Election in 2024. But, it needs an emphatic electoral victory in Karnataka, to stay ahead of the Opposition.

However, all is not well in the Saffron Party in Karnataka. The BJP is facing an uphill task. There is anti-incumbency. The Saffron Party is also facing corruption charges, with the tag of 40 per cent Commission Sarkar. The ticket-distribution, too, was not a smooth affair. As a result, the simmering discontent has spiralled out of control, turning into open revolt, with former State Chief Minister Jagdish Shettar and former State Deputy Chief Minister Laxman Savadi severing their ties with the BJP and joining the Congress.

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Ever since B S Yediyurappa was replaced as State Chief Minister by Basavaraj Bommai, there has been deep resentment in the party. Yediyurappa is easily the tallest Lingayat leader in Karnataka. Following Yediyurappa being replaced by Basavaraj Bommai, the BJP position has been considerably weakened in the State.

The party is finding it difficult to put up a spirited fight, in order to ward off the challenge being posed by the Congress.

Though lackluster, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai saw advantage in taking a hardline on Hindutva Agenda. This came as a huge surprise to political observers, given Bommai’s own socialist background. Perhaps, seeing the party battling the anti-incumbency and with a slew of corruption charges hitting the party in the face, State Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai seems to have seized upon the plank of Hindutva, sensing that it not only can unite, but galvanize, the party cadre in the crucial election time.

Under Bommai dispensation, there have been high-pitched Hindutva-based campaigns. This led to a surge in anti-Christian attacks, with the Bommai Government finally passing the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2022, which, in popular parlance, is known as the Anti-Conversion Bill. The Hijab controversy grabbed international headlines. Raising the Hindutva heat saw the polarizing debate on Tipu Sultan versus Hindutva ideologue V D Savarkar, the push for economic boycott of Muslim traders during temple fairs, besides campaigns against Halal meat and Azaan, The polarizing Hindutva Agenda, coupled with Development, is the new thrust in the BJP electoral campaign strategy.

Prime Minister Modi continues to be the star campaigner for the BJP. However, Modi has the unenviable task of having to inject a fighting spirit in the Saffron Party. Realizing his responsibility, Modi has been making a number of trips to Karnataka, especially during the past four months, in order to galvanize the party campaign, apart from wooing the people of the State. Modi remains the best bet for the party. But, it remains to be seen whether the Modi Magic can really work to the extent that it does make a difference on the ground.

Given the close fight between the two national parties, the Congress and the BJP, the Janata Dal (Secular) is unlikely to make much of an impact on the outcome of the State Assembly elections. The JD (S) named former Union Minister C M Ibrahim as the State JD (S) President, in the hope of making inroads into the Muslim vote, besides consolidating its own stranglehold on the Vokkaligas. But, going by the polarization between the Congress and the BJP, the JD (S) impact could only be marginal.

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