BJP vs Cong on cards in Karnataka
Subhashis Mittra-WIDE ANGLE
A battle royal between the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress appears to be very much on the cards in Karnataka, where the assembly elections in May will also see the Janata Dal (Secular) in the fray.
While the BJP eyes to rewrite a 38-year-old history, the Congress looks forward to wrest power. Interestingly, no political party has won a successive mandate in the state since 1985 and the BJP is eager to rewrite this bit of history and retain its southern citadel.
On the other hand, the Congress is keen to wrest power to give the party a much-needed elbow room to position itself as the main opposition player in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
In fact, what needs to be watched out is whether former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda-led Janata Dal (Secular) will emerge as the "kingmaker" by holding the key to government formation, in the event of a fractured mandate, as it has done in the past.
Like the last two decades, Karnataka will face a three-corner contest in the May 10 elections to elect a new 224-member House, with a direct fight between the Congress, BJP and JD(S) on the cards in most seats.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is also making efforts to make some inroads, whole other smaller ones like mining baron Janardhana Reddy's Kalyana Rajya Pragathi Paksha (KRPP), the Left, BSP, SDPI (the political wing of banned PFI) and Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) will be contesting just few constituencies.
Political observers feel anti-incumbency seems to be a key factor in Karnataka polls, as voters have not given any party a successive mandate. It last happened in 1985, when the Ramakrishna Hegde-led Janata Party came back to power.
Amid some signs of anti-incumbency, BJP is confident about its victory by projecting PM Modi's pro-development agenda, works of the 'double engine government' and its populist schemes, along with the Hindutva card.
Besides, it is highlighting its efforts in providing social welfare decisions on reservation hike for SC/STs, Vokkaligas and Lingayats. While Congress' vote base is spread evenly across the state, the BJP's is pronounced in the north and central regions due to the concentration of Veerashaiva-Lingayat community in the belt, which forms its major vote bank.
JD(S) dominates the Vokkaliga bastion of Old Mysuru (southern Karnataka) region. Of Karnataka's population, Lingayats constitute about 17 per cent, Vokkaligas 15 per cent, OBCs 35 per cent, SC/STs 18 per cent, Muslims about 12.92 per cent and Brahmins about three per cent.
The BJP has set a target of winning at least 150 seats to ensure absolute majority. It wants to avoid a 2018-like situation, when it had initially lost out on forming government despite emerging as the single largest party, and had to depend on defections of Congress and JD(S) MLAs to establish its administration later.
It is making all out efforts to make inroads into the Old Mysuru region, where the party is traditionally weak. The region has 89 seats (including 28 in Bengaluru), and according to leaders, the party fell short of majority (110 in 2008 and 104 in 2018) due to its inability to win as many seats from this region.
Will the 2023 Karnataka assembly polls be a battle of political survival for former PM H D Deve Gowda-led Janata Dal (Secular), or will the regional party once again emerge as a king maker, like it did in 2018, in the event of a hung verdict. This is the debate going on in the political circles concerning JD(S).
As of now, what is seen on the ground is a locally driven campaign by the Congress and JD(S). The BJP, on the other hand, has been projecting Narendra Modi's leadership and focusing on the narrative of a 'double engine government' and the achievements of the Centre.
With the Election Commission announcing the poll schedule for Karnataka, it remains to be seen whether the ruling BJP will buck a four-decade old trend to script history or if the Congress upstages its saffron rival to up its stakes as a challenger ahead of the 2024 parliamentary polls.