It’s a high-stakes battle that could change the course of the state’s political history, and even rewrite the national political discourse. Here are the reasons why the Karnataka assembly polls are important:
BUCKING THE TREND: Karnataka has been atypical – it has not returned the ruling party to power in the last three decades. The big question now is, will chief minister Siddaramaiah buck this trend. Siddaramaiah has stated: “I am often told history is against me as no sitting government in Karnataka has been re-elected in a long time. But we are here to create history.” Will the Karnataka voter oblige?
CHANGING PATTERN: Karnataka is also known to vote differently in assembly and parliamentary elections. “The parties in power in Karnataka and at the Centre have never been the same in the past 30 years, this is peculiar,” political trackers maintain. Now with the Modi-led BJP government at the Centre, will Karnataka vote for BJP and change the established pattern?
Live updates: Voting underway in Karnataka
GAME WIDE OPEN: Karnataka has always witnessed a bipolar clash, barring the 2004 poll when former PM H D Deve Gowda-led JD(S) came to occupy the centre-stage of power politics. This time, the probability of a coalition arrangement seems to be high. It is a do-or-die battle for JD(S) as it will be pushed to the brink of political extinction, if it doesn’t make it. If JD(S) succeeds, Gowda would go all out to once again show that he has the mettle to be a major player in the national political arena.
LEADERSHIP STRATEGIES: The Karnataka polls become more important for both BJP and Congress with regard to leadership strategies. While BJP’s campaign was centrally driven and state leaders relegated to the background, the Congress placed state leader Siddaramaiah in the vanguard and the central leadership took the backseat. Karnataka polls will answer the question: Which of the two leadership templates will work?
THE FUNDING GAME: It’s been an open secret that Congress, which has lost power in almost all major states, banks heavily on Karnataka to meet its expenses. And that is precisely why BJP is serious about the Karnataka assembly polls, and desperate to choke the Congress of its funding supply in the run-up to the 2019 polls. “It will be a Congress-mukt Bharat if Congress loses in Karnataka,” is what BJP leaders feel, while Siddaramaiah and AICC president Rahul Gandhi maintain that Congress resurgence will start from Karnataka.
NATIONALISM VERSUS SUB-NATIONALISM: Knowing well that the Modi-Shah duo would inject a heavy dose of nationalism into the poll campaign, CM Siddaramaiah deftly chose to play up regional issues. Apart from working on caste and other regional factors, Siddaramaiah played on sub-nationalism by mooting the idea of a state flag, amplified the Kannada sentiment in administration and education, and also rebooted the Lingayat demand for a separate identity. Now with Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh getting ready for assembly polls, Karnataka’s polls will tell which narrative sells at the hustings.
TEST FOR MODI AND RAHUL: Elections in Karnataka are crucial for PM Narendra Modi as it is his first big battle south of the Vindhyas, and in the non-Hindi heartland. Though Modi managed to boost the morale of the party cadre, the poll outcome will decide if it is going to be a smooth sail for him in the south in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Ditto with Rahul, who has continued his temple run in Karnataka. Rahul has visited several mutts, bowed before swamijis and sought their blessings during their campaign. But will his soft Hindutva yield dividends?