Karnataka Elections 2018 – Shortcomings of Many

Repolling at three booths in two Karnataka Assembly segments on Monday

Like a typical triangular battlefield, in the run up to Karnataka Assembly Elections, 2018 both major players i.e. Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) and Indian National Congress (INC) are trying every move in the game, to simplify the dynamics and seal the deal. However, as the battleground for Karnataka elections gets curated, one cannot help but notice the ostrich strategy adopted by all three parties, to keep their vices away from the public eye. Desperation to remain relevant without making it about oneself is an art our politicians have mastered over the years. Even if that means resorting to incorrect historical facts, sharing stage with symbols of corruption, appeasing minorities, tinkering with social structures, doling out praise and confounding the electorate to the hilt.

As exit poll results flood the market, and a majority of them predict a hung assembly, one is forced to think where the shoe pinches for all three parties.

Bhartiya Janta Party – Old Wine in New Bottle

BJP has proven its ability to install itself in office, irrespective of the people’s mandate and quantum of seats. However, as Amit Shah’s School of Election Management refuses to innovate, BJP’s campaign in Karnataka is turning out to be dull as dishwater. Three challenges that haunt BJP in the State include lack of leadership in Karnataka BJP, Yeddy-Reddy’s checkered past and absence of localised campaigning. BJP’s coordinates in the Karnataka political space are similar to that of Congress in Gujarat – save that BJP has an alchemist – Prime Minister Modi. It is surprising that a party that managed to come up with “Chalo Paltai” and managed to impregnate Tripura has had a bland run in its maiden battle for a foothold in South India. The party has failed to address urban migrants, who moved to Bengaluru during the IT boom.

The Modi-Shah juggernaut, chained by their association with the Reddy brothers could not cry foul on corruption either. Yogi Adityanath personifies Hindutva – the same construct that is being allegedly held responsible for the cold-blooded murder of Gauri Lankesh, is a strategic howler. The PM has not made any forward-looking speeches or promises either. He has gone back to revisiting history and cherry picking issues that have no real bearing on the future of the state.

The PM known for his political prowess appeared to be on the slippery ground when he doled out praise for the former PM and National President of the Janata Dal (Secular) party JD(S), H. D. Deve Gowda. Known to be economical with praise and unsparing during campaign speeches, he is aware of BJP’s weaknesses in this election. I personally believe, he is sure of BJP winning the election, unsure of BJP’s CM candidate, being able to complete a full term. Also, with cracks appearing in NDA, the PM may be using this platform to forge fresh alliances for 2019.

As Siddaramaiah hungrily seized the Lingayat issue, the party is unable to play on that front too, despite its CM face, BS Yeddyurappa being a Lingayat himself. After winning consecutive elections across the nation, it appears the party is drained of both, energy and ideas.

Indian National Congress – Battling within itself

Indian National Congress is an old party with old problems. The party is found battling the same issues, election after election. Even a change of guard has failed to bring about any discernible change. Karnataka election campaign is heavily dependent on the party’s Chief Ministerial candidate, Siddaramaiah, who is also the incumbent. Moreover, pitting Siddaramaiah against PM Modi is an outright unintelligent craft, when the party could have easily magnified its stance by comparing Congress’s CM candidate versus BJP’s candidate. Delhi CM, Arvind Kejriwal had made a similar miscalculation and the backlash faced by him is for all to see. As much as we’d like to deny it, India is a quasi-federal democracy and the PM implicitly enjoys an edge over the rest.

Unlike other States, Congress does have a strong pipeline of leaders from Karnataka ranging from the leader of opposition in Lok Sabha – Mallikarjun Kharge, party’s social media head Divya Spandana, Chairman of Congress Research Department Rajeev Gowda, former CM of the State Veerappa Moily to former Home Minister of State G Parmeshwara. I was reasonably confident to see a campaign that hosted parallel rallies lead by home grown politicians in local languages, addressing local issues and eventually initiating the last mile conversation with the electorate. I am not sure if the Congress party’s campaign incorporates this. If Congress party rallies are addressed in Hindi and English by helicoptered faces, it is a lost opportunity. The party, well aware that it will not receive support from JD (S) unless it negotiates on the CM candidate, has also underestimated the PM’s ability to the covert confused electorate to a convinced supporter. Not to mention the potential infighting between local leaders, this campaign has been muted, inert and lofty.

Janta Dal Secular – Divided House

Going by the exit polls, JD(S), is the party poised to be the ultimate king-maker. In the event of a hung assembly, this minor alliance partner will have more bargaining power than the major. Well aware of its political importance, the party exudes exorbitant confidence. The father-son duo will milk this opportunity to make the most out of it. Time and again, the party has denied any possibility of it extending support to BJP or Congress. However, it is fiction to believe that the party will be able to seal 112 seats in the upcoming elections and form a government by itself. It is obvious that the party will not vouch for its ex- JD(S) member Siddaramaiah. Also, it will not settle for anything less than a CM candidate if it were to support BJP.

The Battle for Karnataka is critical for Rahul Gandhi to ensure BJP is unable to deliver on its promise of “Congress Mukt Bharat”. It is equally critical for Amit Shah, whose skills are being put to test in South India for the first time; Ram Madhav was the brain behind BJP’s success in North East. However, it is evident that JD(S) is having a gala time. Touted as the king-maker, even if the party sits in the Opposition, it would stand vindicated. Regrettably, the electorate continues to be of least importance. As always, all politicians have buried their heads in sound proof chambers, heedless of the issues that matter, oblivious to the concerns and incognizant of the power of the electorate.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NEWSD and NEWSD does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

Gunja Kapoor

Gunja Kapoor is a policy analyst based in New Delhi. She tweets at @gunjakapoor

Previous ArticleNext Article