The Election Commission of India has cited urban voter apathy and the influence of money as key challenges in conducting a fair and robust election process in Karnataka while announcing the schedule of Assembly polls in the State. Voting will be on May 10 and the results are to be announced on May 13. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wants to retain the only southern State where it has ever won power. In 2018, a coalition of the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) had formed the government which collapsed following defections, paving the way to power for the BJP under the leadership of B.S. Yediyurappa. He was later replaced with Basavaraj Bommai, as the BJP wanted to rework its terms of engagement with the powerful Lingayat community to which both belong. Mr. Yediyurappa remains the force to reckon with, and the BJP central leadership is now trying to placate him, lest he ruin the pitch for the party’s re-election bid. Politics in the State is traditionally driven by two dominant castes, the Lingayats and the Vokkaligas, and a subtext of linguistic subnationalism that surfaces occasionally. The BJP’s attempt has been to alter the social dynamics of the States to create a Hindu identity politics that overwhelms caste identities and is antagonistic to religious minorities. Through propaganda and policy, the party has advanced Hindutva in the State, and this election will be a test of the extent of its success.
A mix of deeply divisive campaigns around the wearing of the hijab in schools, interfaith romance, religious conversions and distortion of history to paint the anti-British Tipu Sultan as an anti-Hindu despot have gained the BJP a strong position, but it has also created new tensions that could be counterproductive for the party. The rise of Islamist politics gives additional ammunition for BJP’s politics in the State. The Congress has a robust ground game in Karnataka, as well as local leaders who have the capacity and the will to give the BJP a spirited challenge. The outcome of the Karnataka elections will have ripples across the country, considering that two national parties, the BJP and the Congress, are face to face. The BJP hopes to neutralise the Janata Dal (S) and the political dominance of the two dominant caste groups. The Congress on the other hand has yet to demonstrate that it would leave no stone unturned to win this crucial battle. Considering the high stakes, the chances of a toxic campaign season are real. The Election Commission of India needs to keep the campaign civil and in adherence to the model code of conduct.
Watch | Karnataka’s hijab controversy explained