With just a fortnight of campaigning for Karnataka assembly polls left now, electioneering is peaking with warriors pulling out all their armoury of issues, non-issues and rhetoric.
In an otherwise issueless polls, as corruption and development cards are played by both the principal contenders, the ruling Congress and the challenger Bharatiya Janata Party, even as HD Kumaraswamy, son of former prime minister and JD-S leader HD Deve Gowda, is catching up, a political war scenario is being witnessed.
No doubt, it is a high-stake battle for the Congress as it will have to work doubly hard to retain Karnataka that has more or less been ejecting the ruling party, if the recent electoral history of the state is any indication.
However, for a person who is a recent entrant into the Congress from the Janata Dal-Secular, Karnataka Chief Minister S Siddaramaiah has managed to get an iron grip over the party apparatus in the state and the Central leadership is also content with playing second fiddle – just like in Punjab, where Captain Amarinder Singh ran the Congress campaign and wrested the state from the Akali-BJP combine and relegated what at that time seemed a resurgent Aam Aadmi Party.
In Karnataka, similarities can be drawn with Punjab as there are three main players, however with a twist. Here the Congress is ruling the state and will face anti-incumbency. But, the BJP’s selection of chief ministerial face – BS Yeddyurappa – can severely dent its anti-corruption plank, as the former chief minister and few of his cabinet colleagues had been to jail on corruption charges only.
Quietly in recent past, Siddaramaiah had pushed the Kannada pride angle as also played a religious and casteist card that is sure to break the Lingayat vote bank that Yeddyurappa swears by, being the tallest Lingayat leader in the state. By recommending special religious minority status to Lingayats, the chief minister has successfully dented the traditional vote bank of Yeddyurappa.
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Whether it was the state’s own flag or anti-Hindi imposition campaign or dubbing the Prime Minister Narendra Modiand Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath as the “North Indian imports of Modi and Yogi Adityanath”, Siddaramaiah has made the polls battle into him versus Modi and Amit Shah and their brand of Hindutva politics by hoisting regional issues atop his talking points.
And, the chief minister has managed to place himself at the centre of the campaign.
Meanwhile, the BJP clearly is banking on its trump card – Modi -- and feels that Yogi will also do the trick by consolidating the party’s support base firmly behind the BJP.
In the last lap of campaigning or slog overs in cricketing parlance, the war of words and the level of discourse is going to be sharper and lower, with no holds barred fight to the finish battle between the national parties, even as a cold, calculative JD-S is plotting to win enough numbers to become the kingmaker.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi has had made couple of trips to Karnataka already and would be undertaking whirlwind tours just at a time when Modi-Yogi combine are to address rallies across the state, peaking the political heat in the state.
Congress spokesperson Brijesh Kallappa is confident that Siddaramaiah is returning on the strength of performance and welfare schemes – Indira Canteen on the lines of Amma canteens in neighbouring Tamil Nadu.
If one goes by opinion polls, the safest bet seems to be a hung assembly with Congress emerging as the largest single party followed by the BJP and the JD-S, in this order.
During the 2013 general elections, the BJP had split into three groups with one led by Yeddyurappaa and ended losing miserably to the Congress that won absolute majority and ran a government for full term till 2018.
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The number crunchers and pollsters predict that either the Congress or the BJP getting a 3.5 per cent vote swing in its favour could hit the magic number of 112 in the house of 224.
Opinion polls conducted by India Today and Karvy Insights predicted a hung assembly -- Congress 90-101 seats and the BJP 78-86 and the rest to be taken by Janata Dal (S), making it the kingmaker, or even the king depending on the final numbers.
In the wake of it, Congress leaders said they respected the science behind poll predictions but are confident that the party will get much higher than the numbers predicted and would coast to a clear-cut victory.