With less than a month to go, the election fever is yet to catch up in Bengaluru and one struggles to find any party hoarding in the IT capital of India. But election heat is surely simmering in Karnataka ahead of arguably the most important state polls before the big 2024 Lok Sabha battle.
Overconfidence in the Congress camp, the caste matrix, 40% corruption taint on the BJP, Congress’s Rs 2,000 per month promise for women, and the Modi factor – one hears these five buzzwords the most with News18 speaking to several leaders from both the Congress and BJP camps in the state capital this week. In the Congress, some overconfidence is palpable as a victory seems to be taken for granted, given the people’s “anger towards corruption” in the state. The BJP camp acknowledges that it will be a “tough fight” but a leader said they were already at 100-plus seats and their trump card – PM Narendra Modi – was still to arrive for the big push.
“It is extremely important for the Congress to win Karnataka…or the BJP will be unstoppable in 2024,” a senior Congress leader told News18. A senior BJP leader said the Congress was bordering on overconfidence in what was a tight contest. “The Congress campaign may hit a plateau soon as they do not have any crowd-puller national leader. The BJP’s campaign will be peaking at the right time as Narendra Modi will extensively tour the state,” the BJP leader said. But the Congress says it has deliberately kept the campaign local as that is its winning formula. “Our campaign is all done. Now, our leaders will focus on constituency-level electioneering,” the Congress leader argued.
Caste matrix, ‘40% corruption’
Karnataka has one of the most complex social matrices with a number of castes and sub-castes. The saffron party has an edge here – and some in the Congress would concede that, another BJP leader closely involved in the campaign said. The Muslims, the SC-Right, some STs, and the Kurubas amongst the OBCs are solidly backing the Congress. In the Old Myuru region, the Vokaliggas remain with the JD(S) as HD Deve Gowda has been the prime minister and HD Kumaraswamy became the chief minister despite having very small numbers.
“Almost all of the rest of the castes are with the BJP. From the SC-Left to Bovi, a significant proportion of STs, Lingayat, Brahmin, Vaishya, Bant, Reddy, Baleja, Lambani, Valmiki, Madhiga, and other OBCs like Madivada, Balija, and Savita. The social matrix itself gives the Bharatiya Janata Party the lead,” a BJP leader explained. On top of that, the BJP is adding the “Hindutva touch” to try to bring all castes under its umbrella and is planning rallies of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath in the state, especially in coastal Karnataka.
A veteran Congress leader, however, argued that ‘Hindutva’ has a limited appeal in southern India and West Bengal; it was exposed when even BS Yediyurappa had to advise his party against focusing on issues like hijab, halal, and Tipu Sultan. Even the latest decision to withdraw the 4% Muslim quota was a “desperate attempt” to make Hindutva an issue, said the leader.
The Congress feels the corruption issue instead is uniting voters against the BJP, overriding caste barriers. “The 40 per cent ‘PayCM’ corruption campaign has hit home. Talk to any person on the street and he would agree that the government is corrupt,” the Congress leader quoted above said. Congress strategist Sunil Kanugolu has advised the party to keep the corruption of the BJP government in Karnataka as the “number one” issue. This is important as this is one state election where the tables have been turned by the Congress, which is the party usually under attack on corruption.
With no CM face declared officially, though Basavaraj Bommai is the incumbent, the BJP is banking on PM Modi’s popularity to help it conquer Karnataka. A BJP leader said multiple rallies of the PM are being planned, especially in areas that he has not touched so far in programmes. The other major campaigner will be BS Yediyurappa followed by Yogi Adityanath. “The reason why the Congress is giving a competition in Karnataka is it has some semblance of organisation here and it has a mass leader in Siddaramiah. But what the BJP is going to get in addition to our organisational strength and our strong mass leader Yediyurappa is the Modi factor that will come into full play now,” the BJP leader told News18.
But in the Congress camp, strong CM faces like Siddaramiah and DK Shivakumar stand out in comparison to what many perceive as a “weak CM” in Bommai, though the BJP is projecting his image as that of a “common man CM”. With Yediyurappa retiring from active politics, the BJP has also played it safe in its candidate list by dropping only 18 of its sitting MLAs so far and mostly agreeing with his recommendations. Even that has triggered protests. The Congress feels all this will boomerang on the BJP in the face of clear anti-incumbency against the CM and his MLAs.
X factors: Rs 2,000 allowance, Amul issue
A silent factor working on the ground, as per inputs with the Congress, is the Rs 2,000 per month promised by the party for the woman head of every family in Karnataka, if it comes to power. A Congress leader said they were getting queries from across the state on when they will receive the “guarantee cards” promising this, as announced by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. “That shows how the issue has resonance and inflation and price rise is a major issue in these elections that the media is not focusing on,” the Congress leader said. The party has also promised 200 units of free electricity.
Also, while the BJP has tried blunting the attacks on the “Amul entry” issue and downplayed it saying Amul is only present in the online space in Karnataka against the wide network of the state’s Nandini brand, the Congress has made it a narrative of “outsider imposition”. A Congress leader said the “bahari’ factor, especially from Gujarat, works in state elections against the BJP. The issue of Belagavi is simmering still, with the BJP unsure of bringing in Maharashtra deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis for a widespread campaign in Karnataka given the border dispute between the two states.
The BJP, however, still feels it will make some gains in Old Mysuru and Kalyana-Karnataka to cross the magic figure, and the JD(S) will collapse to just about 20 seats in the elections. Its big hope remains that Modi will work his magic.
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