Why Karnataka Elections 2018 Matter? The bugles for Karnataka assembly elections have been sounded. The elections are scheduled for May 12 and the results would be out on May 15. The outcome, whichever way it goes, is likely to have a major impact on national politics as it would surely affect the future course of both the BJP and the Congress. The reason for this being many.
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 at the end of the year and may shape the contours of the 2019 general election. If the BJP regains the state as it is claiming, it would certainly disorient and demoralize the Opposition, which has been blown away in state after state by the Modi tsunami since it gained momentum prior to 2014 general elections. A Congress win may boost the confidence of the Opposition, which got to crow about something following the setbacks to BJP in by-polls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Of the four southern states, Karnataka is the only state the BJP has ever won but more alarmingly, it’s the only big state in the Congress’s rapidly shrinking power base. But that’s not the only reason Karnataka 2018 will set the stage for India 2019. The battle is being fought between two sides which are evenly matched and have no shortage of either ammunition or ambition. It is a high-stakes, high-decibel, neither shy of playing to sentiments. Though the Election Commission announced the election dates only recently, on March 27 to be exact, the state has been in election mode for over three months now and the leaders of both the parties have covered each and every nook and cranny of the state many times over.
As the BJP juggernaut rolls across the country sweeping away everything in its path, the Congress, in a long time has shown stomach for such a fight. But no thanks to its central leadership as it is the Karnataka Chief Minister Siddharamaiah, who is leading the Congress charge and calls the forthcoming elections as a “battle between secularism and communalism”, all the while pushing for a new religion in the run-up to it. Could the state polls set the template for the future elections which follow?
Clearly, both the parties see the Karnataka elections for what they are. Addressing the BJP media unit around two months ago, P. Murlidhar Rao, the party national general secretary who is in-charge of Karnataka, said that , “After the 2014 parliament elections, the party has not lost any elections in any state to the Congress while the Congress has not won any state where it has been in power since 2014.” Upping the ante, Siddaramaiah thundered at the Congress plenary session in New Delhi on March 17, “We are all aware the country is looking at Karnataka … It will be a stepping stone for the parliamentary elections in 2019.”
Karnataka is central to the BJP’s plans for southern India as the party has a significant electoral presence in the state having won assembly elections in 2008. Though the southern states alongwith the union territories of Puducherry and Lakshadweep send 131 seats to the Lok Sabha, barring Karnataka, the BJP continues to be a bit player in the region. It’s a pretty dismal statistic considering the political behemoth that the party has become in the rest of the country in recent times.
Lack of a government in a top notch southern state also punctures the BJP’s claims to be a pan-India party: Since 2014, it has swept the country’s map and formed governments across north, west, central and eastern India but has failed to crack the south. The very strengths that helped the BJP to take deep roots in the rest of India are threatening to queer its pitch in Karnataka where the Congress under Siddaramaiah has countered the BJP’s aggressive nationalist agenda by embracing a Kannada sub-nationalist plank. This narrative subtly frames the BJP as a Hindi-Hindutva party that is unable to understand the cultural nuances of Kannada society. Talk of the Finance Commission assigning greater weightage to population while devolving central funds too has inadvertently fed into this political narrative, and given rise to suggestions that the Centre is prejudiced.
The BJP’s attempt to consolidate Hindu communities under its umbrella has been countered by Siddaramaiah who has pitchforked the Lingayat demand for religious minority status to the centre stage so close to the elections. Whether this reaps rich electoral dividends or not, only time will tell.
The BJP’s push for a Hindu identity, embellished by campaigners like Yogi Adityanath, is now squaring against Siddharamaiah’s alleged social coalition of sections of OBCs, Dalits and Muslims, forged by targeted welfare programmes and underlined by Kannada sub-nationalism. A win in Bengaluru will certainly help the BJP to wrest the initiative and open up political space in the south.
Retaining office in Karnataka is essential for the Congress for its very survival. The party seems to have realised, though belatedly that it can hope to rebuild only by empowering state leaders. It has backed Siddaramaiah all through and allowed him to project himself as the Congress face in the state. Though it’s a gamble that the party has taken reluctantly as it had no other choice, it could transform the Congress into a more federal party, the way it was in the 1950s and 60s.
Disclaimer: The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of N4M Media.