As electioneering comes to a close for the no-holds-barred battle in Karnataka between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) aspiring to be a kingmaker in a possible ‘hung’ assembly, all eyes are on what the ballot boxes would unravel on May 15.
True to expectations, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s blitzkrieg of public rallies in the final week of the campaign has apparently turned the campaign to BJP’s advantage which is reminiscent of Gujarat.
The demoralised cadres of the Congress got a brief boost when party chief Sonia Gandhi descended on the scene but that was short-lived.
The JD-S seems increasingly to be batting for the BJP, especially after Modi played a masterstroke and called on former prime minister Deve Gowda and deftly weaned him towards his party with a profusion of compliments. Until the previous day, the octogenarian was firing salvoes at the BJP but today he is a transformed man.
Barring some irresistible Congress baits like chief ministership on a platter to JD-S chief Kumaraswamy after the polls, the JD-S will make good any shortfall in majority support among legislators that the BJP may have. He will ofcourse extract his price which he is prone to do, but the ouster of the Siddaramaiah government is well on the cards.
Modi’s blitzkrieg of rallies has been BJP’s trump card but Siddaramaiah also has been a relentless campaigner, fighting anti-incumbency with rare gusto. With Congress president Rahul Gandhi woefully lacking Modi’s charisma, guile and earthiness and hardly any Congress bigwigs pressed into campaigning perhaps on fear that Rahul would look dwarfed, Siddaramaiah indeed lacked solid support from his party.
Money has by and large not been a constraint on both sides and there has been no dearth of chicanery because of the hugely prestigious nature of the contest.
While the BJP is determined to win to make its ride to power in next year’s Lok Sabha elections smoother, the Congress is fighting a last-ditch battle to remain relevant in national politics. With Punjab being the only other major state under its control, apart from Karnataka, in the Congress kitty, the party is desperate to notch up a morale-boosting win.
One fallout of the electoral battle has been the intense revival of caste politics. It is not as though caste was not a strong factor in the past but this time around the wooing of caste votebanks has touched endemic proportions.
By contrast, religion politics has been less pervasive and vicious than it has been in many other states. Muslims in the South are generally well-adjusted.
The North-South divide was fuelled by Siddaramaiah in the early stages of the campaign in the garb of ‘identity politics’ but, mercifully, it did not take a virulent form as the campaign progressed.
On corruption being an electoral issue, it was a Hobson’s choice for the voter with Siddaramaiah’s corrupt regime on one side and BJP chief ministerial candidate Yeddyurappa’s past record of nepotism and graft on the other. JD-S Kumaraswamy has also been no paragon of uprightness when he was chief minister earlier. If anything, his record was worse.
If the BJP is to make substantial inroads in the South, it needs a good showing in Karnataka. In Tamil Nadu it is tied to the AIADMK but seeing little future in that party it is hoping that cine idol Rajnikant would form a party tilted towards the BJP.
In Andhra, it is untested without an alliance with the Telugu Desam Party, but a tie-up with Jagan Mohan Reddy could still bring it some dividends. In Kerala, it is burgeoning as a party but may still have some way to go. A BJP victory in Karnataka could well boost its chances in the rest of the South.
All in all, Karnataka is too crucial a battle to be left to local leaders so the Prime Minister has staked his reputation to trounce the Congress in its bastion. Whether he succeeds or fails will determine the future course of politics.