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Crucial Phase

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A very crucial phase in national politics has begun with the announcement of the date for the Karnataka Assembly Election. Single phase voting will be held on 10 May and counting will take place on 13 May. It is crucial because the result will considerably shape the narrative for the next Lok Sabha polls, due in 2024. The ruling BJP has a tough task ahead, as Karnataka is another state that does not repeat governments. Also, because the performance of the incumbent government under Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has not exactly been spectacular! The recent raid that uncovered unaccounted for wealth in the house of a BJP MLA’s son has made things worse by bolstering the ‘forty percent government’ allegations.

The BJP is claiming that the ‘rotating pattern’ of voters’ behaviour can be broken, as happened in Uttarakhand, but there are differences. Uttarakhand is as yet an ‘aspiring’ state, where the ‘patriotic card’ receives a much higher response because of the people’s strong connect with the Armed Forces. In contrast, Karnataka achieved ‘developed’ status by Indian standards decades ago and the focus now is on who gets the largest piece of the cake. So it was that the recent changes in job reservations created such a furore, with competing castes concerned about protecting, even increasing their share.

If the Congress wins a majority or even gets the most number of seats in a hung assembly, it will immediately claim it is the result of Rahul Gandhi’s sacrifice in ‘giving up’ his Lok Sabha seat. This pitch may not have too many takers, but it will certainly push the BJP on to the back foot. However, in reality, the Congress should not, itself, fall for this line. It is going to be a tough fight needing local satraps like former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and KPCC President DK Shivkumar to bury their personal rivalry and uniting the party forces on the ground.

Nothing can be taken for granted, as the BJP is all set to play its powerful Modi card, as well as exploit deep understanding of caste and clan interests. Also, Congress leaders are already alleging that the third force, the JD(S), will be the BJP’s ‘B’ team. The contest will be in every individual constituency with its particular vested interests, requiring a deep understanding of how to consolidate or divide votes. All the ‘initiatives’ being taken by the government can be looked at in that light. Wooing sidelined and disgruntled leaders of rival parties will also have an impact. And, of course, the blooming of the Lotus should there be a hung assembly can very much be expected. The nation will watch what happens with bated breath.