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Outcome in Karnataka to decide political realignments

Saturday, May 12, 2018
By Prakash Bal Joshi

Karnataka voters go to polling booth today to decide who should rule the state which has politically become crucial for the political equations on national level power games. No wonder the state saw most acrimonious heated election campaign during the month that saw all those count at the national level politics touring the interiors of the state under scorching sun. This is one of a cliff-hanger assembly election which eludes any firm speculation over its outcome.

It’s not merely the national parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress eagerly awaiting the outcome of the election but many regional satraps like Mamata Banerjee, Karuna Nidhi, Mayavati, Akhilesh Yadav, Sharad Pawar are equally waiting for the people’s mandate in Karnataka. This is one of the many reasons to have a closer look at what happened during the election campaign in the state.

As expected the vitriolic campaign for controlling the Karnataka Assembly elections was sharper than the one seen in Gujarat and Bihar. The top leaders from the BJP as well as the Congress descended in the state. It turned out to be a slanging match between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi without any respite. Modi spent considerable time in the state giving fodder to the Congress to criticise his presence in the election campaign however being the star campaigner for the party ever since he took over prime ministership in 2014, Modi continued his attack on the Congress and its President Rahul Gandhi. Rahul Gandhi went all out against the Prime Minister Modi and his policies claiming a stunning defeat for the BJP in Karnataka.

Leaders up the ante in Karnatka
If one were to listen to these national leaders in the election campaign, one would mistake it to be a national general election rather than election for a Southern state of Karnataka. Obviously, they were referring to issues affecting the political horizon at the national level rather than addressing the local issues. Both accused each other of deviating from main issue of development of the state forgetting that there was third party, Janata Dal (S) led by former prime minister H D Deve Gowda, which may emerge as king maker if there is fractured mandate and no party is in a position to form the government.

Corruption remained the main focus of the campaign as both the parties indulged in charges and counter charges between Modi and BJP President Amit Shah, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah for inefficient and corruption riddled rule of the state. The Congress hit back by targeting the BJP chief ministerial candidate B S Yedduyurappa and his case. Amit Shah talked of Rs 70 lakh Hublot watch on CM’s wrist asking him who gave it as a gift. The issue of UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin also had an echo during the campaign, forcing Rahul Gandhi to assert that she was more Indian than many people.

Why was Karnataka more important to the BJP than Gujarat where it used the emotional card? Well, the party President Amit Shah gave an answer while answering questions by media. He said it was not merely part of Congress mukta Bharat, but it also was a kind of “Gateway to South India.”   

Unlike Gujarat, there are lots of political killings in the state during last five years. Amit Shah was more blunt when he raised the issue of the killing of RSS and BJP workers by SDPI, a radical Islamist political party floated by the Popular Front of India. Modi also did not spare these outfits during his campaign describing these associations saying that these outfits were "ABC of communalism". Modi always addressed the Siddaramaiah ministry as "seedha rupaiah government” provoking strong reaction from Congress campaigners. Provoked by these allegations Siddaramaiah served legal notices to Modi and Shah, demanding an apology and threatening to file Rs 100 crore civil and criminal defamation suit if they fail to tender apology. Well such acrimonious campaign is forgotten once people caste their votes and tempers calm down. Rahul Gandhi also used the Reddy brothers’ BJP connection by asking why the BJP gave eight tickets to Reddy brothers and their associates who looted Rs 35,000 crore from the people of Karnataka?"  In the same breath, he would also allege that the   fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi was allowed to flee the country by Modi government. Fake voter IDs, cash with the PA of industries minister threat by communal forces, talk of Love Jihad by UP CM Yogi Aditya Nath, added more debating points for both the sides. The issue, the Siddaramaiah government recommending religious minority status for the numerically strong Lingayat community did not figure much during the campaign.

There was an undercurrent of North-South divide during the campaign as large number of BJP ministers from the Centre participated in the campaign. The discussion and debate had no meaning as leaders from all the parties were in the campaign and it was no point whether they were from South or North. While campaigning in states from North, Modi had no problem. But did he have any discomfort level due to handicap in communicating in people’s language that was an issue. He had translators who used to translate his sentences in local language.

Lot depends on Karnataka outcome
The BJP wants to enter South through Karnataka by seizing it from the Congress, while retaining Karnataka is very crucial for Congress President Rahul Gandhi, who expressed his desire to become prime minister of the country. When he was asked whether he would stake his claim over the top post, he retorted why not if the party gets the majority. It is possible only if he is able to turn tables on the BJP by retaining Karnataka and creating conducive atmosphere in favour of the Congress. If the Congress loses Karnataka then Punjab will be only major state with the Congress, making it further difficult to impact the general elections scheduled in year 2019. There are assembly elections scheduled in November 2018 in three major states, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and much will depend on what happens in Karnataka and possibly Madhya Pradesh. That would create the momentum the Congress needs in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Any loss in Karnataka will demoralise party workers in other states as well, impacting these three elections scheduled in November.

From the point of the BJP, winning back Karnataka from the Congress is very crucial. It is in real sense a gateway to South with the Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh still in different modes. Rahul Gandhi’s assertion about prime ministerial candidate is a double-edged weapon. It may ruffle feathers of many aspirants in anti-BJP camp or may silence some of them in accepting the Congress as the central leader of the proposed anti-BJP front.

The Congress can not expect Janata Dal (S) to support if they fail to get 113 seat clear majority since JD(S) is irked at its description by Rahul Gandhi as B team of the BJP. The JD(S) is also not very happy with Siddaramaiah who was once part of socialist lobby and later joined the Congress. The political die will set once the Karnataka poll result is out as parties will decide which way they should go or keep themselves aloof from national fronts. The realignment of political forces for the real battle for LS 2019 will take place with real earnest.

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