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DC Edit | A midsummer political thriller in Karnataka


Published on: April 17, 2023 | Updated on: April 17, 2023

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai (Twitter/@BSBommai)

Nearly in the middle of 2023, a year before the general elections, India is witnessing a highly interesting state-level poll in Karnataka, the only state the saffron party has ever won in the south, which is turning out to be a midsummer political thriller for all the three parties.

The BJP has formed the incumbent government, under Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, but it is not completing a full term after a fractured mandate five years ago. Though the people gave a strong pro-BJP mandate, it fell short of a majority. Once the Congress and the JDS decided to come together, the BJP could not form government and its strongman Lingayat leader and former CM B.S. Yediyurappa found his political career coming to a sudden end. Once the BJP sneaked back to power, it nominated Mr Bommai, a relative lightweight, who completed the remainder of the term, and is reportedly, as per early surveys, facing a strong wave of anti-incumbency.

For the first time in any big state, the Congress is being seen as having a clear edge, but would it win comfortably, get a majority, fall short of it and yet emerge the single largest party, and be forced into an alliance government, or not, remains to be seen. But the current position is the first validation for the Grand Old Party, where a change of guard is even a likelihood, in a state where it is taking on the BJP directly, and after the Rahul Gandhi-led Bharat Jodo Yatra spent considerable time in the state.

The Congress, after its current PCC president D.K. Shivakumar took charge during bleak times and turned it around, and despite his rivalry with former CM and leading contender Siddaramaiah, ensured the party managed its internal rifts reasonably well. The party not only released its first and second lists ahead of the BJP but also has a strange reversal of political events — with several significant BJP leaders quitting the party to join the Congress. Amongst them are former CM Jagadish Shettar and former deputy CM Laxman Savadi, besides several legislators, adding to the perception of winds seeking change.

The JDS is fighting for strength in its traditional strongholds of the southern part of the state but would also need a hung Assembly to stay relevant. If the winds of change, however, also shift the state from giving a mandate split three ways to a strong result in favour of either the Congress or the BJP, the regional party would find its future bleak.

It is significant for the BJP to retain the state, it’s only foothold in the south of India; and for an urban party, it would mean control over only two — Bengaluru and Mumbai — of the six major metros in India — the remaining four being run by Opposition parties — Delhi (AAP), Kolkata (TMC), Chennai (DMK) and Hyderabad (BRS).

However, the BJP is banking on its biggest weapon, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose popularity in the state is extremely high, to win them this battle. And if anyone can, he sure can, even against these odds.