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

Karnataka is seeing a straight contest between BJP and Congress

April 16, 2024 12:15 am | Updated 11:04 am IST

Almost a year since the Siddaramaiah-led Congress rode to power in Karnataka with a thumping majority of 136 seats out of 224 in the State Legislature, the party is banking on the widespread appreciation for implementing its ‘five guarantees’ that it had promised in order to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Janata Dal (Secular) (JDS) alliance in the general election. While the polls to the Lok Sabha are in the backdrop of the Rameshwaram Cafe blast in Bengaluru on March 1, that left nine people injured, the incident has had little impact on the ground, with even the BJP, which has alleged that it is a case of a ‘law and order’ failure, treading carefully to avoid giving it communal undertones. It is a difficult lesson the BJP is likely to have learnt from its performance in the Assembly elections on May 10, 2023. Its governance was marked by months of communally polarising government orders and issues, beginning with the hijab ban in February 2022 soon after Basavaraj Bommai replaced the hugely popular party veteran B.S. Yediyurappa as Chief Minister. This was followed by the repeal of the 4% reservations for Muslims in State government jobs and educational institutions, and distributing this quota equally between Vokkaligas and Veerashaiva-Lingayats. The repeal, in the form of a government order on March 27, came weeks before the Assembly elections in May. Yet, the Congress bettered its 2018 Assembly poll performance by four percentage points, garnering an impressive 43% vote share, while there was no change in the BJP’s vote share of 36%.

The Congress’s ‘five guarantees’ have resulted in tangible benefits for more than two-thirds of the State’s population, going by government claims. But the party’s attempt to make the ‘denial of Karnataka’s central pool of funds’ a poll issue has had little resonance. The BJP has witnessed steady success in the Lok Sabha polls in Karnataka, bettering its 2014 record of 43% by 8.4 percentage points in the 2019 general election, crossing the half-way mark at 51.4%, and winning 25 of the 28 seats. With the JD(S) steadily losing ground and vote share and being viewed as representing only one community, the Vokkaligas, it has been relegated to being allotted three seats in the BJP-led alliance. This general election would thus be a direct contest between the BJP and the Congress. But it appears unlikely that the BJP, now the principal Opposition in the State, will be able to replicate its performance in 2019.

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