Sunil Gatade | May 13 in Karnataka: For whom will it be unlucky?
May is lucky for Narendra Modi: twice he led the BJP to a majority in the Lok Sabha -- in 2014 and in 2019 -- a feat unparalleled in the annals of the saffron party. But one has to see if May 13 will be a lucky day for the PM as the Karnataka Assembly election results are announced.
Interestingly, May 13 has been lucky for the Congress. It was on this day in 2004 that Sonia Gandhi for the first time brought it to power via the coalition route. It was the start of a new era, with the party in power for 10 long years.
Thirteen is considered unlucky in the Western world. In some countries, hotels don’t have rooms, even floors, numbered 13. The rationale is that no one would like to stay in an unlucky room. It’s good that the Election Commission doesn’t believe in such superstition.
With the Lok Sabha polls just a year away, the Karnataka polls may be crucial to show which way the political winds are blowing. The next round of Assembly polls will be at the yearend, in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.
In Karnataka, the Congress and the ruling BJP are in a keen tussle in a make-or-break election in the backdrop of political developments like Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification from the Lok Sabha, which have sent shockwaves in Opposition circles.
It is also the first state election since the Hindenburg report came out on the gross financial irregularities and lapses in the Adani Group. Since then, Gautam Adani has slipped from his No. 2 rank among the world’s richest and his companies lost tremendous value due to a bloodbath at the bourses.
Karnataka holds an important place in the BJP’s scheme of things: it is said to be its Gateway to the South. It’s the first state south of the Vindhyas where the BJP got power for the first time in 2007.
Under Narendra Modi, the BJP has become the world’s largest political party. Gone are the days when the BJP’s first government at the Centre headed by Atal Behari Vajpayee back in 1996 was dismissed by its detractors as a “13-day wonder” and its second government lasted only 13 months. The 13th Lok Sabha which came into being in October 1999 saw Vajpayee in power for almost a full term. The pendulum has gone to the other extreme now, with the party unabashedly campaigning for a “Congress-mukt Bharat”.
Karnataka also has a special affinity for the Congress. When the Janata Party was at the helm at the Centre in 1977, it had helped the Congress to get back to centre-stage through the Chikmagalur Lok Sabha bypoll. Indira Gandhi, then disqualified from the Lower House, had trounced the Janata Party’s Veerendra Patil, and there was no looking back for the Congress. Cries of “Ek Sherni, sau langoor, Chikmagalur, Chikmagalur” had rent the air at that time.
After a delay of some days, the BJP finally managed to release its first list of 189 candidates, and then a second list of 23; while the Congress is off to a flying start by declaring nominees in most seats, creating ripples in political circles. Controversial minister K.S. Eshwarappa’s opting out of the fray has sent its own message; while former chief minister Jagdish Shettar’s declaration that he would stand as an Independent if not given a ticket is indicative that all is not well with the BJP.
While some claim that the delay in announcing candidates shows the BJP’s nervousness, others feel that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah are taking extra precautions while laying the battlefield. While the rival sides may deny it, both are prone to factionalism. It is equally true that both sides have so far been able to project a picture of unity.
For the BJP, former chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa is the elephant in the room. The octogenarian leader was felicitated by the PM some time ago to signal that the powerful leader has not been sidelined by the party. Mr Yediyurappa was instrumental in bringing the party to power in the state and hasn’t lost his prime place despite making way for Basavaraj Bommai as chief minister some time back. The rival faction is headed by B.L. Santosh, BJP’s national general secretary (organisation). A section of the party believes that despite being CM candidate, Mr Bommai has failed to become the party’s “face”, which is a cause for worry.
Both Mr Modi and Mr Shah, who play till the last ball, will leave no stone unturned to reach out to the masses through feverish campaigning.
In the Congress, former CM Siddharamaiah and state PCC chief D.K. Shivakumar, rivals in state politics for long, are CM hopefuls. Rahul Gandhi has been able to keep a lid on their rivalry so far, but tomorrow could be another day. Desertions from the ruling side to the Opposition are being seen in the state.
The massive response to Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra in Karnataka has enthused the Congress. Mallikarjun Kharge, who replaced Sonia Gandhi as party president, hails from Karnataka.
H.D. Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal(S) is the third party in Karnataka politics, but it is losing steam. The dissension in the Deve Gowda family itself over the Hassan seat looks like a bad omen at a time when the state is witnessing a fierce clash between the two titans.
The state BJP chief’s remark that the Karnataka poll is a tussle between Savarkar and Tipu Sultan is a pointer that the ruling party will exploit the Hindutva issue to the hilt.
The open accusation by a contractors’ association in the state that they had to pay 40 per cent commission for government contracts under the BJP had created quite a row. The Congress governments were not that different, say the critics. But the corruption issue has come in handy for the BJP’s detractors. Some argue that the raids on prominent Congress leaders by the investigative agencies are to show that the shoe is on the other foot.
Allegations are bound to fly thick and fast over the coming one month. “Revadis” will also be on offer to grab more votes. Karnataka is too precious a jewel for either side to lose. It remains to be seen whether it is won by the neck or by the mile.
The Karnataka elections appear to be a different ballgame altogether for the BJP, which suggests that electoral battles in South India are different from those of northern and western India.
The writer is a journalist based in New Delhi