Congress-BJP face-off in Karnataka

Karnataka is the cynosure of all eyes these days. The whole country is waiting with bated breath about the outcome of the Karnakaka assembly elections. In fact, the TDP is in the edge-of-the-seat mode. More than the Congress, it is theTDP which wants to see the back of the BJP.

 In 2013 elections, the BJP was a divided house and its three factions fought one another. As a result, the party got a drubbing and lost power. But, later in 2014, the BJP had put up a united show. It won 17 Lok Sabha   seats.

It is a fact that the BJP had been gaining from strength to strength since 1998-99. In every Lok Sabha elections, it got a minium of 10 seats. This time around, it’s a battle royale. It’s challenge for both the BJP and the Congress. Somewhere along the road, there is the Janatha Dal S, which wants to be a king-maker. Kumaraswamy of the JDP would be the happiest if neither BJP nor the Congress get absolute majority. That will be the most ideal situation for Kumaraswamy and he can fish in the troubled waters at will. Both the BJP and the Congress are accusing each other of entering into underhand dealings with the JDS.

On Monday evening, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while addressing a public meeting, called upon the people not to waste their vote by backing the JDS. It remains to be seen what the people’s verdict would be like and who will go on to wear the Karnataka crown.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi has spent over 3 months in Karnataka, which is a record of sorts. No Congress chief had toured this incessantly. He is trying to pick up from where he left in Gujarat and unleash a high voltage campaign. In fact, the Congress was the first to launch the election war. But, beyond Rahul, Siddaramaiah, Mallikarjune Kharge and DK Sivakumar, the Congress does not have a charismatic leadership. Rahul and Siddharamaiah are spearheading the Congress campaign.

The BJP was slow to enter the fray. It was late by a good two months. But, it has many charismatic leaders like Eswarappa (OBC), Mahesh Jigijinigi (SCs), Yeddiyurappa, Ashok, Sadananda Gowda, Jagadish Shettar and Sri Ramulu (ST). In addition, national leaders Anantakumar, Rajnath Singh, Yogi Adityanath, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Piyush Goyal, Prakash Javdekar and of course the redoubtable Narendra Modi are spearheading the campaign.

Modi’s whirlwind tour of Karnataka has given the party a great advantage and it is now at the top of the charts. Modi’s meetings were well-attended and boosted the party prospects. BJP is already well placed in    Belagavi, Bijapur, Coastal Karnataka and Bengaluru, while is it picking pace in Ramanagara, Mandya, Chikballapur regions. With Modi campaigning for four more days, the BJP cadres are confident that the momentum will snowball into unstoppable juggernaut.

The Congress is banking on the positive surveys that predict anything between 115-129 seats for the grand old party. But, the BJP believes that the last ten days are critical for the party and hopes that it would romp home comfortably.

JDS hopes that it would be a key factor in the post-poll scenario. The BJP, however, feels that there would not be a hung assembly and is confident that the 50 lakh Telugu voters will back it.

The BJP, manifesto released yesterday, said it would waive loans worth Rs 1.50 lakh crore and affirmed that it will affix the first signature on this file. Rythu Bandu market intervention scheme worth Rs 5000 crore, insurance of Rs 2 lakh to landless labourers, Skill development through mission Kalyani, Swayam Samriddhi scheme and CM Laptop Yojana are other important schemes.

The Anna Dasoja scheme, 300 Annapurna canteens, Maharshi Valmiki scholarship yojana, Rs 500 crore, Babu Jagjivanram scholarship scheme and curbs on sand, land and mining mafia are other important schemes envisioned in BJP manifesto.

The Congress manifesto too has several populist aspects such as free education till PG level for women, slum development, improved road connectivity, driking water provision, optimal usage of Cauvery water, one crore jobs in five years and 50 per cent reservation in jobs for women.

Though it is essentially a three-cornered contest, the chief fight would be between the BJP and the Congress. I personally feel that the Congress, despite its brave front, is on the backfoot. It is cagey and smells a defeat.

Another importance of the Karnataka polls is the caste dimension. Two major caste groups in the state are Vokkaligas and the Lingayats. The Lingayats constitute around 17 per cent of the total population. The Vokkaligas are round 12 per cent. Kurubas, to which Siddaramaiah belongs to, accounts for 7 per cent. The SCs and the STs account for another 25 per cent. The Congress is depending on the minorities, SCs, Kurubas and other OBCs for support. But, the BJP feels ‘sab ka saath sab ka vikas’ will work in its favour.

The campaign has been acrimonious and both Modi and Siddaramaiah are engaged in war of words. They are challenging one another on Twitter and elsewhere. Yeddiyurappa has been projected as the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate and we have to see how he will fare and how far is it going to benefit the BJP. BJP national president Amit Shah is traversing all corners of the state.

Another special feature of Karnataka is the abundance of Mutts and Swamijis. There is a swamy for every caste. For the past two to three months, every politician worth the salt is making the rounds of some mutt or the other. Meanwhile AP Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has asked the Telugus in Karnataka to defeat the BJP. In effect, he has given indications that he would align with the Congress in the days to come.  Chandrababu’s call has surprised the Telugus because the Telugus in Karnataka have been traditional BJP voters. The BJP leaders are confident that the Telugus will stay with them this time too.

-Raghuram Purighalla

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