Identity and development will define the Karnataka polls
The Congress is playing on sub-nationalist card. Portraying the BJP as a party that seeks to impose Hindi and North Indian ethos, Mr Siddaramaiah has aggressively promoted Kannadiga and even unveiled a state flag.Updated: Mar 27, 2018 17:45 IST
With the Election Commission announcing May 12 as the date for the Karnataka assembly election, the political campaign in the southern state is all set to intensify further. The state has, indeed, been the focus of political activity for much of this year. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already addressed eight rallies in the state; Congress president Rahul Gandhi and BJP president Amit Shah have visited the state four times over the past few months. Both chief minister Siddaramaiah and BJP’s chief ministerial candidate BS Yeddyuruppa are powerful, rooted and popular state leaders in their own right and are engaged in a direct tussle. The third pillar of the state politics is the combine of HD Deve Gowda and his son, HD Kumaraswamy.
But it would be a mistake to see the election as only one between personalities. Like any major Indian political battle, the Karnataka dynamic has two major elements: development and identity. A key political issue is how the Congress government has managed urban governance, especially in Bengaluru, and rural incomes. The BJP is banking heavily on the fact that the state capital remains inadequate in terms of infrastructure, civic amenities and traffic and hopes to tap into the discontent. But knowing full well that urban pockets are not enough in what remains a primarily rural state, the party hopes that farmer discontent will help. The Congress, for its part, claims that farmers are better off in the state than in BJP-ruled states; the state government also prides itself on its welfare schemes and believes this will pay political dividends.
But along with this, the other key element of the state political landscape is identity. The Congress is playing the sub-nationalist card. Portraying the BJP as a party that seeks to impose Hindi and North Indian ethos, Mr Siddaramaiah has aggressively promoted Kannada and even unveiled a state flag. The Congress, in order to divide the BJP’s Lingayat support base, has also decided to give it minority status. How this plays out will be key. On the other hand, the BJP has decided to rely on Hindu consolidation, particularly in the coastal belt, and decried the Congress for seeking to divide the community. The party which gets the combination of personality, identity and development right and is able to tell a better story to the people of Karnataka will win this critical battleground state.