Karnataka Assembly elections 2018: The verdict will impact across Vindhyas

Bharat RautUpdated: Wednesday, May 29, 2019, 11:05 PM IST
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Winds of hectic political activity have started blowing towards South of India, now. The reason is the state of Karnataka is going for yet another round of elections next month. The Karnataka elections, to be held on May 12, will serve as the curtain raiser for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The outcome will especially galvanise the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress, and could have a significant impact on Assembly polls due in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram later this year. What happens in Karnataka will also set the ball rolling for future alliances and strategies. Therefore, all political analysts, observers and media houses are more than curious to see how the electioneering progresses in the next six weeks.

It seems to be obvious at this stage that either of the main players — Congress or BJP — gets a clear majority. The third outcome is a hung Assembly. In that case, it is the JD(S) — the third major player in the state — which is likely to play kingmaker. The party has entered into a pre-poll alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) presumably to tap into the sizeable Dalit vote bank in the state. While it is unlikely that the JD(S)-BSP alliance will get the numbers on its own, it could play spoiler for both the Congress and the BJP by splitting the votes and, ultimately, be the deciding factor on who finally forms the government.

Edge over rivals

Following the recent by-poll defeats, the BJP is under pressure and needs to prove that the Narendra Modi wave is intact. A win in the state will ensure the party has the edge over its rivals ahead of the other three big state elections later this year. It will also serve as a boost for the Modi-Shah duo, proving that their political gambles are paying off and party president Amit Shah’s high-risk “go-for-jugular” style is reaping dividends, while putting a big question mark on Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. A BJP win in the state could also give impetus to the formation of a non-Congress Third Front ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The Congress is going all out to woo allies with the idea that it will lead an alliance of parties that want to thwart a common enemy. However, the party’s defeat in Karnataka would serve as a spoiler. Unless it retains Karnataka and wins in big states like Madhya Pradesh or Rajasthan, its chances of emerging as the unanimous anchor would be uncertain.

On the other hand, the BJP’s allies could realise that it is in their own interests to stick with the party. The Shiv Sena has already announced it will contest the Maharashtra assembly elections and the 2019 Lok Sabha polls on its own. The Shiv Sena shares an uneasy alliance with the BJP in the state and has been vocal in opposing some of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policies. A win in Karnataka may force the Sena to rethink its strategy. In Jammu & Kashmir, too, the PDP-BJP alliance appears to be developing cracks. Inherent contradictions and divergent political interests have led to a deepening in the fissures. However, if the BJP wins in Karnataka, the PDP, despite disagreeing with the BJP on sensitive issues facing the State, may consider it prudent to put aside their differences in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

A convincing victory in the state may encourage more regional parties to form an alliance with the BJP. Amit Shah’s shrewd tie-ups have already led to the party forming or joining governments in six out of eight north-eastern states. Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu could be next on his radar with possible alliances with the YSR Congress in Andhra and Rajinikanth’s party in TN. To ensure a win, the BJP is formulating strategies. The party will use the same election strategy it successfully deployed for assembly elections in UP and Gujarat. The party has tasked its workers with collecting information about the electorate. The Foundation work is taken very seriously by the party since it helps leaders connect with common people. The information will also help in selecting candidates.

The other angle to the story is the possibility of a Congress win. A victory here will be a massive boost for Rahul Gandhi and the beleaguered party that was reduced to ruling in only three states (including Karnataka) and one Union Territory, the Congress realises that a national-level grand alliance or ‘mahagathbandan’ is the only way the BJP juggernaut can be halted. To get the ball rolling, 20 opposition parties recently came together at a dinner hosted by Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, described as the first concrete attempt to forge an anti-BJP alliance for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. NCP chief Sharad Pawar, leaders of Trinomool Congress, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, DMK, RJD, JMM and the Left were among those that attended the dinner. A win in Karnataka would strengthen the Congress case that it should be the leader of this grand alliance. If the Congress wins, it will be a feather in the cap of present Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah, who will have overcome anti-incumbency and the political might of the Shah-Modi combine.

Lingayat ‘gamble’

The Congress has played another risky game. The state cabinet’s decision to accord minority status to Lingayats could yield political dividends or it could backfire. The community constitutes 17 per cent of the total population in Karnataka, and is the largest chunk. The Lingayat community, which can influence the outcome of 100 seats, traditionally favours the BJP. In North Karnataka, the community has distanced itself from the BJP. The party, however, feels the decision will work in its favour. “The issue was hanging fire for seven decades, and no government had dared take a call. The party is also hoping that its decision to lob the ball into the Centre’s court will leave the BJP in a bind. The Congress will make the Karnataka elections a “secularism versus communalism” contest. If successful, the party could use this as their strategy for upcoming polls. The Karnataka ruling side got a slight boost two days ago when seven JD(S) rebel former MLAs joined the party. The rebel MLAs resigned from the Karnataka legislative assembly a day after they cross-voted in favour of the Congress candidates in the March 23 Rajya Sabha biennial elections in the state.

In this intriguing scenario it is obvious that all eyes will be on Karnataka. Both Rahul and Amit Shah are aware of the risk involved in the game.

Bharatkumar Raut is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS).

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