Karnataka polls: A do or die battle for BJP and Congress

Karnataka is important for BJP as it’s the only state in its kitty in the South

karnataka election (File) Prime Minister Narendra Modi looks at supporters from atop a vehicle during a road rally held by the BJP in Bengaluru | AFP

The campaigning for high stakes Karnataka election has entered the last and crucial phase. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi's back-to-back road shows drew crowds, senior cabinet ministers, chief ministers and party leaders fanned across the state for maximum engagement with the electorate.

Congress too brought in heavy guns for impact. UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi addressed her first political rally in four years. Her last rally was in Rae Bareli, during the 2019 Lok Sabha election. The Karnataka election is one of the rare occasions when all Gandhi family members came together to address rallies.

Karnataka has been a lucky state for the Gandhi family as Sonia defeated Sushma Swaraj in 1999 to make a statement against her foreign origins debate, while former PM Indira Gandhi made a political comeback after winning Lok Sabha bypoll from Chikmagalur in 1978.

Karnataka is headed for an interesting contest whose results will be keenly watched across the country.

Congress started the campaign as favourites—as anti-incumbency against the ruling Basavaraj Bommai government threatened to singe the BJP—till the opposition party came out with a manifesto. As it sought to ban the Hindutva body, Bajrang Dal, the BJP, particularly PM Modi termed it an attack on Bajrangbali, Lord Hanuman. 

The saffron party’s campaign got a zing as it brought religious and cultural themes into the campaign, putting the Congress on the back foot. The Congress hopes the issue would die down before the votes are polled on May 10.

Karnataka is important for BJP as it’s the only state in its kitty in the South. If it loses, the party may suffer a setback and may have to contend with the tag of being a North India party. Any loss is likely to have an impact on elections in Telangana later this year, and the party’s effort to present a credible option in states like Tamil Nadu.

A victory may send its graph soaring and will signify that Modi alone has the power to swing votes and change the atmosphere even in adverse conditions. The party can carry the victory vibe in other poll-bound states this year, and also in the Lok Sabha election. Karnataka is important for BJP as the party won 25 out of the 28 parliament seats in the state in 2019. A victory is essential for the party to maintain that high score and the southern state has been a big contributor to BJP tally nationally. BJP had won 18 seats in 2004, 19 in 2009, and 17 in 2014.

The Karnataka result may also impact how BJP engages with the Opposition and use investigating agencies against them. 

For Congress, it is a battle to gain confidence. If it goes on to win elections, it is likely to have a salutary effect on other elections this year. A party-run government can hope to improve its tally in Lok Sabha next year, where it could manage to win only one seat in 2019. Congress' victory will also be a boost to the united opposition efforts, which is badly in need of a happy story. 

A loss in Karnataka, despite the best available political conditions, could dent Congress's chances to increase its tally in Lok Sabha next year and its claim to lead the Opposition. Karnataka is also Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge’s home state; the result will be personal to him.


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