Bengaluru: The high voltage campaign for the May 10 Assembly elections in Karnataka will come to an end on Monday as all three major political parties in the state — BJP, Congress, and JD(S) — are busy making their last pitch to woo the voters.
The top guns of all the major political parties were on a campaign blitz across the state in the past few days, even as the ruling BJP has been striving to break the 38-year-old pattern of alternating governments and retain its southern citadel.
The Congress on its part is working hard to wrest power from the BJP to give itself much-needed elbow room and momentum to position itself as the main opposition player in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The JD(S) led by former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda was seen putting all its might into campaigning, wanting to emerge as ”king” and not ”kingmaker”, hoping to get the required numbers to form a government on its own.
”Government with full majority” seemed to be the favourite slogan of the leaders of all the political parties during the campaigning for the elections to the 224-member Assembly, as they stressed on getting a clear mandate to form a strong and stable government in the state.
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While BJP’s campaign largely centralised with the focus being on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the ‘double-engine’ government, national issues and programmes or achievements of the union government coupled with a few from the state, the Congress’s by and large focused on local issues and was also run by its local leaders initially. However, its central leaders like AICC president Mallikarjun Kharge, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra joined in subsequently.
JD(S) too ran a highly localised campaign, anchored solely by its leader H D Kumaraswamy, with party patriarch Deve Gowda too joining in, despite advanced age and related ailments.
Modi’s campaign juggernaut in the past one week since April 29 moved steadily ahead with as many as 18 mega public meetings and six road shows so far. The PM canvassed votes for BJP candidates across the state with the poll slogan ‘Ee Baariya Nirdhara, Bahumatada BJP Sarkara’ (This Time’s Decision: Majority BJP Government).
Ahead of the March 29 announcement of polls, Modi had visited the state seven times since January, to unveil several government schemes and projects, and addressed numerous meetings of beneficiaries of the government’s various schemes. According to BJP leaders, Modi’s campaigning across the state has boosted the party’s morale and confidence among the electorate, which they hope will convert into votes and help the party script history in the polls.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah too has extensively travelled the state, campaigning and strategising for the polls. ”PM and Shah have put Congress on the backfoot in the run-up to the polls,” a senior BJP leader said.
A number of BJP leaders including party national president J P Nadda, Chief Ministers of BJP ruled states like Uttar Pradesh’s Yogi Adiyanath, Assam’s Himanta Biswa Sarma, Madya Pradesh’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Goa’s Pramod Sawant, as well as Union Ministers Nirmala Sitharaman, S Jaishankar, Smriti Irani, Nitin Gadkari, among others, too have travelled to various parts of the state for campaigning. After having faced difficulties in forming the government on its own strength in 2008 and 2018, as it fell short of a majority despite emerging as the single largest party, the BJP is this time hoping for a clear mandate with full majority, and has set a target of winning at least 150 seats.
The BJP is making all-out efforts to make inroads into the Old Mysuru region, where traditionally it has been weak. The region has 89 seats, including 28 in Bengaluru, and according to leaders, the party fell short of a majority, getting 110 seats in 2008 and 104 seats in 2018, because of its inability to improve its tally from this belt.
For Congress, wresting power from the BJP will be a morale booster, and a key for reviving its electoral fortunes and strengthening its credentials as the main opposition player against the BJP ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. By winning Karnataka, it also wants to give a momentum of sorts to workers to take on the battle-ready election machinery of the BJP later this year in the Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.
Focused on this, the party has been involved in high-stakes campaigning this time. Though the campaign initially centered around state leaders Siddaramaiah and D K Shivakumar, Kharge gave it momentum and thereby prepared the pitch for the party’s top leaders Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi to join in.
The brother-sister duo extensively travelled the state, challenging the BJP’s campaign machinery led by Modi, countering and challenging him on various issues, most importantly on the issue of corruption, while promising to provide a better alternative to Karnataka. During the final days of campaigning, their mother and former AICC president Sonia Gandhi addressed a party rally in Hubballi on Saturday.
This poll is also a prestige battle for the grand old party with a Kannadiga Kharge, who hails from Kalaburagi district, at its helm as the national President. The party has set a target of winning 150 seats.
Will the 2023 Karnataka Assembly polls be a battle of political survival for JD(S) or will the regional party once again emerge as kingmaker, like it did in 2018, in the event of a hung verdict? That is the debate in political circles this time too.
Plagued by desertions, internal rifts, and with the image of being a ”family party”, Gowda’s son Kumaraswamy has in a way single-handedly managed the JD(S) campaign across the state, with the aging father taking the back seat.
Though 89-year-old Gowda initially stayed away from campaigning due to age-related ailments, he has been travelling and campaigning for JD(S) candidates in the past couple of weeks, especially in the party bastion of Old Mysuru region, making an emotional pitch and countering the Congress and BJP’s attacks against his party.
Both national parties, BJP and Congress have alleged that JD(S) is the ‘B team’ of the other, and also that JD(S) was hoping to win just 35-40 seats in order to play a crucial role in government formation in event of a hung Assembly. Despite facing these criticisms, Kumaraswamy has kept to the topics of regional pride and Kannadiga identity in his campaigning, along with issues related to welfare of farmers and poor.