That the state had shown a tendency to change regimes every five years for decades may give the Congress hope.
The battle lines have been drawn for a major election of the year with the polls to the Karnataka Assembly to be held on May 10. As a bellwether state and the only one in the south to offer the national ruling party BJP a footprint, Karnataka could provide a verdict that may offer valuable insights into the state of the nation and the mood of its people ahead of the general elections of 2024.
Karnataka is one state among at least four where the BJP will be in a virtual head-on battle with the Congress this year though the JD(S) has the wherewithal in parts of the state to play the kingmaker in the event of an indistinct verdict as in 2018 when BJP, the single largest party, did not have a clear majority in the 224-seat Assembly to form the government on its own.
An opportunistic alliance between the JD(S) and Congress saw the latter give up the chief minister’s post to claim a share of power in a state it used to lord over for decades from 1951 till the tide turned in early 1980s. Once an ally of the BJP while also holding the CM’s post, JD(S) was seen to ditch its partner midway over the CM’s post and created political mayhem before the 2018 polls were held.
The test now is not only of the Prime Minister’s personal popularity and whether he can help buck the anti-incumbency syndrome even if his party came to power only in midterm after Operation Lotus had weaned legislators away from the second largest party Congress and brought down the H.D. Kumaraswamy-led government. It is also a litmus test of how nationally relevant the Congress is or the JD(S) is in Karnataka in these politically tumultuous times.
That the state had shown a tendency to change regimes every five years for decades may give the Congress, now picking up the gauntlet in the wake of the disqualification of its former president Rahul Gandhi, hope of coming to power on its own. Karnataka is also a microcosm of much that may be right nationally, but even more of that which is wrong in terms of caste, community, quota politics, cash-for-votes, corruption and inter-state feuds, issues such as these bobbing up regardless of which party is in power.
With at least three in the fray who are holding or have held the chief minister’s post and another with an outsize influence in terms of attracting Lingayat votes plus an ambitious Congress CM wannabe prominent in the campaign, the stakes are indeed high for multiple political personalities. The BJP and Congress will be going hammer and tongs at each other also in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh this year, besides eyeing Telangana as another state that might just be up for grabs.
There is plenty that the Karnataka verdict can throw up in terms of being the first swallow of the summer in an electorally significant year before the big one comes up in 2024. And yet any conclusions from state polls can be illusory as the 2019 poll results illustrated in giving the BJP the biggest parliamentary majority since 1984. The seats won and vote share in the 2018 elections for the three parties were – BJP (104, 36.35 per cent), Congress (80, 38.14 per cent) and JD(S) (37, 18.3 per cent). The expectation is there may be major changes in these statistics in the May 10 polls.