Battle of ‘guarantees’ between BJP, Congress in parched Karnataka

Looking to repeat its 2019 sweep in Old Mysore and coastal regions, BJP has effected massive changes and banks on its ally JD(S) to boost its chances; Congress, which has fielded both young and experienced faces, attempts to counter Modi’s development narrative through its guarantees

April 20, 2024 09:17 pm | Updated April 21, 2024 01:01 am IST - Bengaluru

Former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, former Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa and others present Prime Minister Narendra Modi a gift during an election rally in Mysuru on April 14, 2024.

Former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, former Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa and others present Prime Minister Narendra Modi a gift during an election rally in Mysuru on April 14, 2024. | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Interest in the Lok Sabha elections in Karnataka has been kept alive by the implementation of five “guarantee” schemes, a pre-poll promise made by the Congress in the run-up to the Karnataka Assembly election in 2023, which seems to be countering the “Modi’s development” narrative of the BJP on ground.

Amidst a drought across the State, the worst in four decades, and a crisis in agriculture in the hinterland, 14 seats in southern Karnataka’s Old Mysore and coastal regions are going to the polls in the second phase of the Lok Sabha election on April 26. Across the State, the grand old party managed to win just one seat out of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka in 2019 as the BJP swept 25 seats riding on a perceived “Modi wave” despite the then Congress-Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) alliance being in power in the State.

The lone Congress seat came from southern Karnataka, where the BJP bagged 11 out of 14 seats, with the other two shared by the JD(S) and an independent. Now, in a bipolar contest, the Congress is taking on the BJP, which has the JD(S) on its side in the Old Mysore region, where the regional party has considerable sway over Vokkaligas, a land-owning caste that dominates regional politics.

Will the BJP-JD(S) alliance work in Karnataka?

Looking to repeat its 2019 performance or coming close to it, the BJP appears to be under pressure. To beat the anti-incumbency factor and attempting to re-align local caste combinations, the saffron party, which is contesting 11 of the 14 seats as part of seat sharing agreement, has effected massive changes, replacing eight of its incumbent MPs and shifting one to a different constituency. Those missing out in the overhaul include Union Minister A. Narayanswamy (Chitradurga Scheduled Caste or SC reserved seat), former Chief Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda (Bengaluru North) and former BJP State president Naveen Kumar Kateel (Dakshina Kannada). The party has let it’s alliance partner contest from Kolar, which it had won in 2019.

The new faces

The new faces include Yaduveer Krishnadatta Wadiyar, scion of the Mysuru royal family in the Mysuru Lok Sabha constituency. C.N. Manjunath, noted cardiologist and son-in-law of former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda is taking on the incumbent Congress MP D.K. Suresh in Bengaluru Rural.

In the Chitradurga (SC reserved), Tumakuru and Chikkaballapur constituencies, the BJP has replaced its candidates with former Ministers Govind Karjol, V. Somanna, and K. Sudhakar, respectively, all of whom lost in the 2023 Assembly election. The party has shifted Union Minister Shobha Karandlaje from Udupi-Chikkamagaluru where she faced resistance, to Bengaluru North.

Its alliance partner, the JD(S), has fielded former Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, who replaced incumbent BJP- backed independent Sumalatha, an actor turned politician from Mandya, the hotbed of Vokkaliga politics. Prajwal Revanna, grandson Mr. Deve Gowda, is seeking re-election from Hassan.

Editorial | Two-horse race: On the contest in Karnataka and General election 2024

On the other, the Congress has fielded a combination of young and experienced faces, with many of the young from the families of influential party leaders. Sowmya Reddy (Bengaluru South), Sunil Bose (Chamarajanagar-SC reserved) and Raksha Ramaiah (Chikkaballapur) are offspring of Cabinet Ministers. D.K. Suresh (Bengaluru Rural) is the brother of Deputy Chief Minister D.K. Shivakumar, while Mansoor Ali Khan (Bengaluru Central), Prof. Rajeev Gowda (Bengaluru North), K.V. Gowtham (Kolar), Shreyas M. Patel (Hassan), Venkataramane Gowda (Mandya) are from the families of influential Congress leaders.

Many narratives

If the Congress set a narrative against the BJP for alleged injustice in sharing tax revenues with the State and grossly delaying the release of drought relief in the run-up to the elections, putting the BJP on the backfoot, it also raised issues of delays in the permission to execute the Mekedatu project across the river Cauvery, which strikes an emotional chord in the region. On the ground, the “five guarantees” schemes of Gruhajyothi (free electriciy up to 200 units), Gruhalakshmi (providing women head of the household with ₹2,000 a month), Shakti (free travel for women in State-run transport corporation buses), Annabhagya (₹170 per person per month in lieu of five kilos of free rice), and Yuvanidhi (scholarship scheme for the fresh, unemployed graduates and diploma holders), seem to have hit a chord among the economically weaker sections and backward communities.

How crucial are the Lok Sabha polls for Karnataka?

The BJP on its part has been highlighting the development agenda and Central schemes of the Modi government. It is setting a narrative among economically well-off communities against the guarantees that they say have set the State’s developmental work on a backfoot. The party is heavily banking on the charisma of Mr. Modi to swing votes in its favour. The BJP, now in an alliance with the JD(S), will be keenly watching the transfer of votes to bolster the chances of its candidates in at least eight constituencies as the regional party has a considerable following there, especially with D.K. Shivakumar, a Vokkaliga, at the helm of the Congress’ State unit.

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