Punjab, Karnataka, Mizoram, Puducherry. These are the only states which Congress is governing (Puducherry is a union territory) and the grand old party is facing an existential crisis. The Election Commission of India recently announced dates for Karnataka assembly polls, which will be held on May 12 and results will be out on May 15. Along with Punjab, Karnataka is the only major state which Congress is ruling and god forbid if Rahul Gandhi loses this southern state then BJP’s dream of Congress mukt Bharat (Congress free India) will become a reality.
Can Congress really retain Karnataka? Contrary to the public perception Congress is in a dominant position and chief minister Siddaramaiah is fighting a very tough battle and is leading from the front. BJP over the last four years have been winning elections for fun and have two aces in PM Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. So, why the story is different in Karnataka? First of all, Siddaramaiah is playing Kannada card to great effect and also evoking sub-nationalism factor. The chief minister is not targeting BJP’s CM nominee BS Yeddyurappa but is directly taking on PM Modi and Shah and it is proving beneficial. The Karnataka leader is also banking on his development record and telling people to vote for stability and growth.
Siddaramaiah is also trying to play caste politics by asking for separate religion and minority status for Lingayats, which forms a sizable population in Karnataka. Congress president Rahul Gandhi has also given free rein to Siddaramaiah and that has only made CM stronger. If Siddaramaiah somehow manages to retain Karnataka then he will become a strong leader nationally and Congress could go into Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh elections with much more confidence.
As the election dates are nearing both parties are preparing very hard and after a long time Congress is looking in a strong position and quietly Siddaramaiah is emerging as a strong regional leader, who is not afraid to call Modi and Shah’s bluff. But, history is against CM as since 1985 no government has been re-elected for a second term and this factor is very hard to ignore.
Indian voter and common man needs a credible and strong opposition and has been looking for an alternative for quite some time. All this talk of the third front will go away if Congress wins Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh convincingly and for that to happen Siddaramaiah has to retain his home turf at any cost and if he fails then Rahul Gandhi would be staring at a huge defeat in 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Post Script: BJP President and heavyweight Rajya Sabha MP Amit Shah is feeling the heat of summer. First, he said that BJP’s CM contender Yeddyurappa’s government is the most corrupt government in Karnataka’s history (wanted to say Siddaramaiah). After that, his translator goofed up and said that Narendra Modi’s government has done nothing in the past four years. Shah might be BJP’s top election strategist, but even he is feeling the heat in the wake of recent bypoll defeats across various states. The battle for Karnataka won’t be easy and to use cricket’s terminology it will go down to the wire.