The high-decibel poll campaigning by the two principal rivals in the May 12 Karnataka Assembly elections at first glance showed how “Congressified” the BJP campaign is and how BJPfied the Congress electioneering was.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the BJP onslaught against the ruling Congress in Karnataka with an aggressive, no holds barred attack against Rahul Gandhi while the Congress chose to peg its campaign on its performance, development agenda and countered the BJP narrative.
The Modi-Shah combine led the BJP campaign, and in the process relegated its tallest Lingayat leader and its chief ministerial face, former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa to the sidelines, like it used to happen in the Congress of yore. The Congress, meanwhile, gave Chief Minister S Siddaramaiah a free hand in everything – from candidate selection to highlighting issues to campaigning – just like in Punjab where Captain Amarinder Singh led the campaign and delivered the state to the party. The Congress has been forced to recognise the local leadership and empower it – something that the BJP used to earlier – and Congress president Rahul Gandhi was content playing the supporting role.
AICC president Rahul Gandhi had at the concluding press conference in Bangalore on Wednesday said as much: “Prime Minister Modi ji attacks me personally, but the election is not about Modi ji or Rahul Gandhi. The election is about Karnataka and Siddaramaiah, whether he was able to govern the state properly or not and what he proposes to do in the next five years.”
Siddaramaiah got to change his constituency, fight from another one and also got his son a ticket to fight from his previous constituency of Varuna.
The Karnataka voter will give his opinion on whether the BJP scored a self-goal in picking up Yeddyurappa as its CM face. And its continuing love affair with the controversial Bellary brothers punctured the BJP’s anti-corruption plank. More important, this stance will blunt its anti-corruption plank in forthcoming elections as also the general elections due in May next year.
Siddaramaiah is not only fighting the BJP offensive, but is also trying to buck the trends in recent electoral history of over three decades. The state has not voted in an incumbent since the early 80s. Siddaramaiah got into election mode early and mounted a cleverly crafted narrative of how an “imported BJP leadership” was trampling upon the Kannada and Karnataka pride. He tried to whip up regional sentiments against the BJP’s penchant its brand of nationalism that is based on Hindi, Hindustan and Hinduism. Siddaramaiah is tapping into a section of the society that is uncomfortable with the BJP’s propagation of one nation, one language, one culture theory.
He has also played the caste card in a manner that has caught the BJP in a bind. The granting of religious minority status to the dominant Lingayat community has put the BJP in a situation where it cannot oppose it. Moreover, this has made a dent in the Lingayat vote, that used to go largely to the BJP with influential Lingayat leaders welcoming the chief minister Siddaramaiah’s initiative that tries to fulfil a long-pending demand of the community.
Prime Minister Modi and his team sought to trip the Congress with the charge of dynastic rule and corruption, an issue that was largely responsible for powering the BJP victory march in 2014 general elections. The PM sought to sell his development agenda to the Karnataka voter and reminded the electorate how corrupt the Congress was and how hard he was working to fight corruption.
Then there is the Janata Dal=Secular of former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda that is fighting for its very survival as a third consecutive loss in assembly elections will surely lead to its disintegration. Already seven of its disgruntled MLAs walked over to the Congress in Karnataka that is led by Siddaramaiah. The CM himself is a former JD-S leader and an apprentice under Deve Gowda before he shifted to the Congress and became the chief minister.
Opinions polls predict a hung assembly with a slender lead for the Congress, making it the largest single party. However, the Congress would be short of a majority and so would the BJP be, forcing both to play ball with the JD-S.
Veteran journalists in the state, who have covered many elections, describe 2018 as the toughest one to predict as there is no wave of any sort. There is no anti-incumbency despite disappointment with the Congress government, making it difficult to guess the outcome.
Too close to a call and neck-and-neck fight is the best description of the situation as of now. But May 15 could prove even these safe guestimates wrong and the voter may give a decisive mandate one way or the other.
In the meanwhile, the suspense continues. Till exit polls give a definitive indication after the polling concludes on May 12.