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While it’s being seen as a make-or-break situation for Congress, for BJP it is a must win poll to shed its image of a predominantly north Indian party. About 5 crore voters will choose from 2,685 candidates in 222 constituencies; polls in two constituencies have been deferred.
The two national parties have waged a high-intensity campaign on the ground and social media. While Congress chief Rahul Gandhi has been aregular presence in the state for two months, PM Narendra Modi launched a late blitzkrieg, criss-crossing the state for 21 rallies. BJP president Amit Shah mobilised the base and addressed the masses.
Chief minister Siddaramaiah, hoping to be the first CM since Ramakrishna Hegde in 1985 to return to power in the state, has stitched a caste coalition of OBCs, minorities and SC/STs to take on BJP’s Hindutva appeal.
For the Modi-Shah combine, a victory here will help get BJP a pan-India presence. With electoral wins in Kerala and Tamil Nadu not on the near horizon, Karnataka is its best bet to gain a foothold in the south. A win is also important for BJP as a Congressmukt Karnataka will substantially reduce the latter’s ability to mount a resourceful fight in the 2019 general election. Reduced to Punjab in the West and Mizoram in the East, Congress’ ability to lead an anti-BJP alliance will be highly compromised.
The Karnataka poll outcome will also set a tone for the assembly elections in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh later this year. A victory for Congress in Karnataka will make it more challenging for BJP to retain power in the three states. A defeat for Congress will make it tough for Congress to wrest the states from the opponent.
For former Prime Minister Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular), this election is important, simply to retain its relevance and presence in Karnataka in the face of an ascendant BJP. The party will hope to garner enough numbers to play kingmaker.
The campaign, fought with an intensity rarely seen in the state, became increasingly personalised towards the end.
Rahul’s temple-hopping matched that of Amit Shah’s. As did the wooing of the various religious mutts. With Lingayats (traditional BJP supporters) being offered a separate religious status by the Congress, caste and religion – never far from the surface – became the front and centre of strategy as well as rhetoric.
All three major parties have tried to woo voters with loan waivers to smartphones /laptops to offering free education to poor girls and pensions to senior citizens and widows in their carefully crafted manifestos.
The most-keenly fought battles will be in Badami and Chamundeshwari, the two seats where Siddaramaiah is contesting. He is being challenged by JD(S) candidate G T Deve Gowda, the sitting MLA in Chamundeshwari and BJP’s tribal face B Sriramulu in Badami. The latter might even emerge as adeputy CM face of BJP. The electoral fortunes of the discredited mining baron Janardhan Reddy’s brothers and associates will be keenly watched as will that of key ministers of Siddaramaiah, especially in Bengaluru.
The polls will also decide the fate of other two chief ministerial candidates: BS Yeddyurappa of BJP and HD Kumaraswamy of JD(S). The later is hoping to be king rather than king-maker in the case of the fractured mandate while Yeddyurappa has already announced the date of his swearing in.