The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular), the three main contenders in Karnataka, have released their manifestos and campaigning is climbing to a crescendo. The State will vote to elect a new Assembly on May 10 and the results will be announced three days later. The three parties have promised a slew of welfare measures. The Congress and the BJP are also trying to amplify their ideological markers. For the BJP, the election is not merely about fighting for a second consecutive term in power but is also about winning an absolute majority of its own for the first time, and even reshaping the politics of the southern State. It has promised largesse including three free cooking gas cylinders a year, and half a litre of local dairy brand ‘Nandini’ milk every day to select beneficiaries. By specifically mentioning ‘Nandini’, the BJP is trying to counter allegations of supporting Gujarat-based Amul’s plan for market expansion in Karnataka at the cost of ‘Nandini’. But the edge of its campaign is the promise of implementation of a National Register of Citizens, a controversial initiative which was originally confined to Assam, and a Uniform Civil Code for all religious communities. Both are hot button topics that could sharpen communal divides. With the tone being set, the party is likely to raise the decibel level on its core ideological positioning in the remaining days of campaigning.
The Congress’s welfare promises include 200 units of free electricity for all households and free travel for women in public transport across the State. The party has taken a relatively more strident position against Hindutva when compared to its campaigns in some recent State elections. But it is also walking a tightrope to not discomfort religious Hindus. It has spoken out strongly about the security and welfare of Muslims who are facing hostile state policy under the BJP. The Congress has promised to restore the four per cent reservation for Muslims which was discontinued by the BJP State government just before the announcement of the election. The JD(S) too has promised to restore the reservation. In addition, the Congress’s promises include the revision of several laws made by the BJP government and a reversal of changes to the school curriculum to boost the Hindutva narrative. Both the BJP and the Congress appear to agree on targeting the JD(S) which is fighting hard to preserve its base among the Vokkaliga community in south Karnataka. With many members of the family of former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda in the fray, the JD(S) is defending itself against allegations of nepotism. But with the intense campaign, one week is a long time in politics.