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Friday, Oct 18, 2019

Karnataka assembly elections on May 12: What’s at stake for Congress, BJP

Karnataka assembly elections 2018 is an existential battle for Congress as the party is reduced to power in only three states. For the BJP, Bengaluru matters because it is central to its ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ political project.

india Updated: Apr 10, 2018 17:51 IST
Prashant Jha
Prashant Jha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Karnataka election 2018  will see state chief minister Siddaramaiah (pictured here) attempt to bring Congress back to power, a win that will boost party morale in the face of BJP’s victory run.
Karnataka election 2018 will see state chief minister Siddaramaiah (pictured here) attempt to bring Congress back to power, a win that will boost party morale in the face of BJP’s victory run. (PTI File Photo)

With the Karnataka assembly elections set to be held on May 12, the political battle shifts from the east (three North-Eastern states went to the polls in February) and north (by-polls were held in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in March) to the south.

But it is not just the shift in geography which makes the battle for the southern state important. It is a battle which will, in many ways, determine the political balance of power in 2019.

Here is why Karnataka matters.

For the Congress, this is almost an existential battle. The party has been reduced to power in only three states — Punjab, Mizoram and Karnataka. A loss could erode Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s credibility. It could devastate the cadre and leave them with a sense that 2019 is a lost cause. It will leave the party without power in the South (barring Puducherry) — which remains the final unconquered bastion for the BJP.

A win, on the other hand, will boost party morale, give a sense of revival to the leadership and the workers, energise the entire opposition, and give it a sense that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) juggernaut can be halted. This is crucial as the Congress heads to three elections where it is in direct contest with the BJP — Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan — at the end of the year.

For the BJP, Karnataka matters precisely because it is central to the party’s ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ political project. It matters also because of the potential anti-incumbency factor the BJP will confront in the three other states heading for the polls.

Karnataka also matters for the BJP because a win will reverse the reverses the party has suffered in the form of a string of by-poll losses in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, MP and Rajasthan. The growing conventional wisdom in Delhi’s political circles is that 2019 is not 2014 and that the Modi wave may have dissipated. A win in Karnataka will reinforce BJP’s dominance and help counter the perception that it has already peaked.

For the BJP, Karnataka is important also because while the party has broken its past image of being just a North Indian party (by expanding in the North-East), an upper-caste party (by winning the support of backward and Dalit groups) and urban force (by doing well in rural areas), it has not been able to make inroads into the South.

Indeed, there appears to be rising concern in the South at what are perceived as BJP attempts to impose cultural or linguistic uniformity. Policy issues like the terms of reference for the Fifteenth Finance Commission have generated concerns in the South that the balance of political and fiscal power is shifting to the north entirely. For the BJP, a win in Karnataka will help quell this perception that it is anti-South, and offer it a platform to expand in other pockets of the region.

Two hundred and twenty-four seats will go to polls in Karnataka. In the outcome of each assembly seat will lie not just the future of the state’s citizens, but the fortunes of India’s two major national parties and the balance of power between them as the country heads to 2019.

First Published: Mar 27, 2018 11:54 IST

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