It was the BJP’s pièce de résistance, the testimony to its once triumphal march into the South. Today, the party is struggling to keep its head above the water in Karnataka which goes to the polls on May 5 after five years of unprecedented political shenanigans and allegations of corruption and sleaze. The same man who hoisted the BJP flag over the Vidhan Soudha, former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa seems also to be trying to write its obituary in the southern state.
His replacement Sadananda Gowda could not contain the damage and now the unenviable task has fallen on chief minister Jagdish Shettar. But the voters are wary of these seemingly ad hoc moves by a party once famed for its iron discipline. So, it is little wonder that the Congress is gung-ho about this turn of events. So too, the father-son combination of former prime minister HD Deve Gowda and former chief minister HD Kumaraswamy who lead the Janata Dal(Secular). The erosion of support for the BJP has enabled both to emerge from the political wilderness and throw their hats in the ring for the second, if not the main, slot in these elections. The Congress has been seriously hampered by the unbridled factionalism, raising doubts about whether the party can benefit from the problems within the BJP. The voter seems to be stuck between the devil and the deep sea in the debate between the Congress and BJP leaders on “your corruption versus mine.”
A last-minute shot in the arm from Gujarat strongman Narendra Modi served to boost the morale of the BJP workers in pockets of Bangalore region, north and coastal Karnataka. The BJP also sought to show that it was ‘purified’ by the exit of Mr Yeddyurappa and his cohorts, while Yeddyurappa worked to damage the BJP to the maximum extent possible. Of course, there was also the inevitable competitive populism, with all sides promising goodies like farm loan waivers, laptops and a monthly allowance for pregnant women.
However, the credit should go to citizens forums like the one headed by Kiran Mazumdar Shaw who have done their best to keep the focus on governance even if it was only in urban areas. The big question that voters are faced with as they go to the polling booths is — can Karnataka afford another spell of uncertainty? If not, how should they vote to ensure that a stable government is formed?