Will BJP increase its tally of ruled states to 22? Or will Congress mark its resurgence and project itself as a major opponent to the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections? The answer to both these questions will be revealed a month later when Karnataka goes to polls. Karnataka is the only state the BJP has ever won in the southern part of the country. It’s also the only big state the Congress is in power at present.
The outcome of the Karnataka assembly elections is likely to have a major bearing on the future course of both the BJP and the Congress. Though each state poll has its own political logic, the Karnataka result could set the tempo for the upcoming assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh later this year and even shape the contours of the 2019 general election.
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As Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who is leading the Congress charge in the state, calls it a “battle between secularism and communalism”, while pushing for a new religion in the run-up to it, could the state polls set the template for the elections that is going to take place? Speaking at the Congress plenary session in New Delhi on March 17, Siddaramaiah declared, “We are all aware the country is looking at Karnataka. This is a going to be a battle between secularism and communalism… It will be a stepping stone for the parliamentary elections in 2019.”
On the other hand, BJP’s national general secretary in-charge of Karnataka, P Muralidhar Rao addressing the party’s media unit a couple of months ago, had said, “After the 2014 parliament elections, we have not lost any elections in any state to the Congress party. The Congress has not won any state where they have been in power since 2014.”
When are the elections going to take place in Karnataka?
Karnataka will go to polls on May 12 and the results will be declared on May 15. The tenure of the current Karnataka Legislative Assembly will expire on May 28. Out of the 224 constituencies, 173 are reserved for the general category, 36 for the scheduled caste and 15 for the scheduled tribe. All electronic voting machines will be linked to VVPAT (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail).
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Bhartiya Janata Party, Congress, Janata Dal and Janata Dal (Secular) are the major national parties contesting the elections. However, satraps like Coorg National Council, Kannad Chalavali Vatal Paksha, Karnataka Congress Party, Karnataka Kranti Ranga and Karnataka Vikas Party are influential among their respective castes.
Major factors at play
Lingayat votes can serve as a crucial factor in this year’s state assembly elections. The Siddaramaiah government has recommended to the Centre for granting of a separate religious minority status to Lingayats and Veerashaiva Lingayats — which account for nearly 17 per cent of the state’s population. In the previous assembly elections, Congress won 15 per cent of votes from the Lingayat community.
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Last two assembly elections results
The 2008 assembly elections in Karnataka was won by BJP comfortably with 110 seats, whereas the 2013 assembly elections was swept by the Congress by winning 122 seats. An interesting fact about Karnataka is that between 1978 and 2008, parties ruling at the Centre failed to take lead in the state. However in 2013, Congress which was in power at the Centre, broke the jinx and was voted to power in Karnataka as well. Within a year, BJP under Narendra Modi took over the reins in New Delhi with a spectacular margin.
Poll campaigns by BJP, Congress
Congress president Rahul Gandhi—in four rounds of visits through February and March, accompanied by Siddaramaiah and a pantheon of leaders—has visited most of the state — ‘Hyderabad’ Karnataka (40 seats); ‘Bombay’ Karnataka (50 seats); coastal Karnataka (19 seats); and the old Mysore area (65 seats).
The highlight of these visits has been stopovers at temples and religious mutts, as part of recent Congress’ efforts to portray itself as a party that believes in a “humanistic” form of Hinduism, as opposed to the BJP’s “communal” one.
On the other hand, BJP national president Amit Shah and the party’s CM candidate B S Yeddyurappa have visited all the areas visited by Rahul and Siddaramaiah, plus the central Karnataka region (22 seats) and Bengaluru city (28 seats). The highlight of their visits has been stopovers at homes of members of Hindu groups killed under various circumstances. Each of these murders has been projected as the failure of law and order under Congress rule and evidence of the latter’s “anti-Hindu” nature. Besides, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has attended rallies in Bengaluru, Mysore, Davangere and Dakshina Kannada.
So far the BJP and the JDS have come out with their first list of candidates who would be contesting the Karnataka polls. The BJP’s list, which was made public late on Sunday night, names ticket-holders in 72 out of the total 224 seats. Not surprisingly, Shivamogga MP BS Yeddyurappa, the party’s chief ministerial face, will contest from his home seat of Shikaripura.
The Congress is yet to come out with its candidates’ list.