The Congress managers are pitching for a clear majority as they want to avoid a hung assembly, and don’t want to give the BJP a chance to poach its lawmakers, as in 2019. The BJP, which is facing a rebellion from within, has its task cut out. A report by Amit Agnihotri
The May 10 Karnataka assembly polls are being watched with interest across the country as the outcome on May 13 would not only impact on state politics, it will have a bearing on the Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Telangana elections to be held later this year.
The polls for the 224 assembly seats in Karnataka are being tightly contested between two national parties, the BJP and the Congress, as well as the regional party, Janata Dal-Secular which has a significant presence.
The Congress is bullish on its campaign and is claiming that it will get a comfortable majority to allow the grand old party to form a government of its own. The Congress managers are pitching for a clear majority as they want to avoid a hung assembly, as it happened in 2018, and don’t want to give the BJP a chance to poach its lawmakers, as in 2019.
In the 2018 assembly polls, the Congress had more seats (80) than the JD-S (37) but still offered the chief minister’s post to HD Kumaraswamy to keep the BJP (104) out of power.
The JD-S-Congress alliance was going fine till 2019 when the BJP came to power through a backdoor by defeating the HD Kumaraswamy government in a trust vote by poaching 17 Congress lawmakers.
If the Congress is able to wrest Karnataka from the BJP, it will be a booster for the grand old party in south India as well as in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, where the grand old party will directly fight the saffron party later this year.
The coming polls in the Hindi-speaking states will be considered a semi-final ahead of the 2024 national elections in which the Congress hopes to forge an anti-BJP front.
The Karnataka result will also have a spill-over effect in neighbouring Telangana where the coming contest will be between the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi, Congress and BJP, which is trying to gain a foothold in the southern state.
Rahul Gandhi has given a target of 150 seats to the Karnataka Congress which is trying its best to achieve that goal. Rahul, party president Mallikarjun Kharge and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra are campaigning in the state besides the state leaders. They are alleging that the double engine government has failed in the state.
The Congress is presenting the grand old party as a united block in contrast to the BJP, which has been suffering from infighting over ticket distribution and led to several of its leaders joining the grand old party.
Congress spokesperson Prof Gourav Vallabh quipped that while the party was giving tickets to candidates who wanted to contest the polls, the BJP was giving tickets to those who do not want to fight the elections.
The Congress has also appointed as many as 66 AICC observers to micro-manage the crucial contest. These observers are senior leaders, MLAs, MPs, and former ministers who will use their poll fighting experience on the ground. They will help in better coordination and work in a focussed way in the assembly seats assigned to them.
Congress insiders said there are many jobs to be done during the campaign like coordinating with the central leadership, fire-fighting and filing complaints with the Election Commission at the assembly seat level and the AICC observers come in handy there as the state unit in charge cannot be present everywhere.
Over the past months, state unit chief DK Shiv Kumar and CLP leader K Siddaramaiah conducted a mass outreach program called “Praja Dhwani” by travelling to around 150 seats.
The Congress is highlighting corruption in the state government as the biggest issue affecting the Karnataka voters. “One of the ministers was caught taking a bribe. The contractors’ association had alleged 40 percent commission in all government contracts. The people have made up their mind against the state government,” AICC in charge of Karnataka Randeep Surjewala said.
He claimed that the Congress had declared its candidates earlier than the BJP which was suffering from severe infighting over allotment of tickets.
The Congress is also taking its assurances like free power, free grains, unemployment allowance and women’s allowance to the voters while telling them about the failures of the Bommai government in a door-to-door campaign.
The party is further alleging that the BJP plays divisive politics and is citing the earlier anti-Hijab and anti-Halal campaigns to target the minorities. The party is highlighting how such campaigns hurt the IT hub image of Karnataka internationally.
BJP chief JP Nadda urged the voters to support his party if they wanted the PM to continue to bless the state but the Congress hit back saying the Kannadigas will choose their government wisely to take their state ahead.
Exodus in BJP
The Congress is upbeat over the joining of over 45 leaders from both BJP and JD-S over the past weeks and claimed it was an indication of which way the wind was blowing in Karnataka. According to Prof Gourav Vallabh, over the past weeks, 45 leaders, including 23 from BJP, 19 from JD-S and 3 Independents joined the grand old party in Karnataka. The latest to join the Congress was BJP leader and ex-deputy chief minister Laxman Savadi and former chief minister Jagdish Shettar.
According to Congress strategists, Shettar’s joining will help the grand old party both in perception building as well as electorally not only in the crucial Hubli-Dharwad area but across the southern state.
Firstly, the ill-treatment of Shettar in the BJP, where he grew through the rank and file over the past decades, will showcase the chaos within the ruling party. Secondly, Shettar belongs to the powerful Lingayat community which can influence around 120 assembly seats spread across vast areas from Bidar to Tumkur.
The Bidar to Tumkur belt comprises around two thirds of the state in terms of area and Lingayats have an influence on around 120 assembly seats in the region. Besides, the Lingayat community has around 10,000 Mutts across the state which are very influential.
Shettar was the biggest Lingayat leader in the BJP after former chief minister BS Yediyurappa. According to Congress leaders, the BJP had to remove Yediyurappa over corruption charges but the party was forced to bring back the veteran in this election to deal with huge dissatisfaction among the Lingayats.
The BJP is also claiming victory in Karnataka but is facing strong anti-incumbency due to corruption charges against the Basavaraj Bommai government and severe infighting in the party over ticket distribution.
Many party lawmakers, ex MLAs, ex MPs and former chief minister Jagadish Shettar have joined the Congress due to infighting. Shettar is an influential Lingayat community leader besides being a grassroots BJP worker and can dent the saffron party’s prospects in the Hubli-Dharwad area.
Karnataka is important for BJP as it is the only state where it could gain political power in the whole of south India. If it loses Karnataka, the BJP will have no representation across the entire south India in the 2024 national polls. As a result, the BJP will be seen majorly as a north Indian party and this will go against its claims of being the largest political party in the country.
PM Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP chief JP Nadda are campaigning in Karnataka to bolster the saffron party’s prospects besides the state leaders. They have been asking for a second term saying the double engine government will further push development in the state.
JD-S leader and former prime minister HD Deve Gowda refused to have a pre-poll alliance with the Congress leaving the floor open for a three-cornered contest involving BJP, Congress and JD-S.
The Congress has alleged that both JD-S and AIMIM are the B team of BJP and helping the saffron party divide the anti-BJP votes in Karnataka.
The Congress said it backed the regional party in 2018 as to stop the BJP from coming to power. But the BJP came back to power in 2019 through Operation Lotus when they brought down an elected JD-S-Congress government.
Some new players have also entered the fray. The AAP, which recently got the national party status, plans to contest all the 224 seats in Karnataka, Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM will contest 25 seats in the Muslim dominated areas while the NCP too will fight elections in the southern state. The CPI will support the Congress on 215 seats but will have a friendly fight on 7 seats.