Karnataka elections: homestretch before Lok Sabha 2019

The Karnataka election will signal Congress’s preparedness to contain the BJP in 2019

Published - March 28, 2018 12:02 am IST

Karnataka was supposed to be the Bharatiya Janata Party’s point of entry into southern India. But after its historic victory in the 2008 Assembly election , the party lost its way in the State, and the Congress staged a comeback five years later. Now, far from expanding to the neighbouring States, the party is struggling to return to power in Karnataka in the face of a determined defensive battle by the politically savvy Congress Chief Minister, Siddaramaiah. A relatively new entrant to the Congress, he has created his own space in the faction-ridden party and in the wider public sphere by traversing caste divides and resisting communal polarisation. Thus, the single-phase election on May 12 could witness a face-off between the BJP and the Congress, with the Janata Dal (Secular) a distant third. The BJP’s challenge is mounted by the old warhorse B.S. Yeddyurappa, its most valuable asset and arguably also its greatest liability. If he won it for the BJP in 2008, he also ensured a defeat in 2013. After he resigned as Chief Minister following allegations of involvement in illegal mining and land deals, Mr. Yeddyurappa tried to run the government through handpicked men. When there was resistance to his meddling from the outside, he formed his own party, the Karnataka Janata Paksha, to down the BJP in 2013, but returned in time to help the BJP perform creditably in the 2014 election. In the absence of other evidence, it must have seemed to the BJP’s national leadership that it could win only with the active assistance of Mr. Yeddyurappa.

Mr. Siddaramaiah has used divisive tactics of his own. His government aided demands for religious minority status for Lingayats, a Shaivite section from which Mr. Yeddyurappa, and by extension the BJP, draw substantial support. And he indulged regional sentiments by unveiling a Karnataka State flag. Both decisions are awaiting the approval of the Centre, but the Congress believes that irrespective of what the BJP-led government at the Centre does, the dividends are for it to reap. Agitations against the use of Hindi in Metro stations are also being turned to the disadvantage of the BJP, which is trying to refurbish its image as a Hindu-Hindi party by stressing solely on the Hindu aspect. Karnataka will not be the last State to go to the polls before the Lok Sabha election of 2019, but it holds great importance for the campaigns of the Congress and the BJP in the run-up to 2019. A loss for either will be a dampener, and a win a great morale booster. Leaders of both parties need to convince themselves, more than anyone else, that they have their nose ahead as they near the homestretch.


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