The Karnataka elections had the potential to be fought on real, substantive policy issues. On the one hand was the Congress government seeking to sell the Karnataka model of development, with an emphasis on efficient administration, welfare schemes and rural programmes. On the other hand was a robust Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), looking to attack the incumbent government for its handling of urban infrastructure, farmer distress, and law and order. This was an occasion in which key debates of our times could be taken to the public. What should be the balance between policy focus on urban governance (the dreaded Bengaluru traffic comes to mind) and rural incomes (the state has witnessed a deep agrarian crisis)? What should be the balance between regional aspirations (focus on local language and flag) and national integration (deepening a pan-Indian identity)? How do you promote entrepreneurship and commerce (Karnataka has a thriving private sector in sectors ranging from education to medicine to mining) without it descending to outright crony capitalism and corruption (the nexus between politicians and contractors, for instance, is not hard to miss)?But unfortunately, like many other elections, as polling day has neared, the tenor of debate (as well as the matters under discussion) have degenerated. The BJP has brought in Pakistan, and alleged that there is “telepathy” between Pakistan and Congress. It has also picked on suspended Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s remarks on Jinnah’s portrait in Aligarh. Irrespective of the merits of what Aiyar did or did not say, these issues have no relevance to the electorate of Karnataka and its well-being. The BJP would do well to focus on issues that touch the daily lives of citizens. The Congress for its part has also latched on to the ‘north Indian’ identity of its rival’s national leaders, including PM Narendra Modi. Regional assertion is one thing, but for a national party to espouse any kind of extreme identity assertion and label leaders as outsiders borders on irresponsibility. In the final stretch of the campaign, it is incumbent on both national parties to bring back the discourse to real issues. Karnataka deserves no less.