Karnataka poll results to have bigger ramifications ahead of 2019; BJP win might tempt party to push for simultaneous elections

Oscar Wilde famously argued that the best way to deal with temptation is to yield to it. If the BJP is a fan of Wilde's ideas, we might see simultaneous elections for Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and the Parliament. The reason: The temptation to go for them would be too strong to resist for the BJP.

The strongest argument in favour of simultaneous elections for these states Assemblies and the Lower House of Parliament is this: When the opponent is down and out, don't give it time to recover but strike the killer blow. If the Congress loses Karnataka, it would be a perfect opportunity for the BJP to achieve its target of a Congress-mukt (free) India.

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and senior BJP leaders. PTI

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other senior BJP leaders. PTI

Here is why: One, once the Congress loses Karnataka, it would be deprived of a solid source of election funds. With only Punjab and Puducherry left in its kitty, the Congress would be starved of funds. This will make it difficult for the Congress to take on the BJP, a party that would have access to a huge war chest.

Since 2013, the Congress has contested more than a dozen big elections. Each one of them has strained its finances. In India, parties survive financially on the premise that whatever they spend on elections would be recovered after victory through donations, corporate funds and graft. Unfortunately for the Congress, elections have turned into a bottomless abyss that just sucks money without returning anything.

During the recent Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat elections, it was clear that the Congress had run out of election cash. Many of its candidates had complained that financial assistance from 24, Akbar Road was available only to a select few. The rest of them were left to finance their own campaigns. Since then, the party's balance sheet has become unhealthier. Fighting a big election would be a huge problem for the Congress unless its supply lines are restored. The BJP is unlikely to ignore the financial misery of its chief opponent.

Two, even if it is slim, the Congress has a chance to actually win a few elections before the current term of the Lok Sabha ends. In both Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the BJP is in power and thus faces anti-incumbency. In Rajasthan, especially, bypolls and elections for panchayats and town municipalities have been suggesting dissatisfaction with the Vasundhara Raje-led state government. Another factor that the BJP would consider is the fact that no government has returned to power in the state since 1993. In every election since then, the incumbent has been voted out.

In Madhya Pradesh, similarly, ground reports suggest the Congress is recovering. It has set its house in order by anointing Kamal Nath chief of the state unit. In all probability, the Congress would project collective leadership by giving important responsibilities to Jyotiraditya Scindia and accommodating former chief minister Digvijaya Singh. Distressed farmers, unemployed youth and acute shortage of water in the state may combine to make the election the toughest of his career for Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

Three, if the Congress loses Karnataka, there will be growing impatience within the party to address the leadership issue. Its cadres and leaders would start reassessing Rahul Gandhi and his inability to win elections in spite of the presence of several factors – demonetisation, unemployment, Dalit anger – favouring the party. It would be demoralised, confused and may no longer see the Gandhis as the only option.

Why would the BJP give the Congress a chance to regroup, recover and pose a serious challenge in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, where victories or even close fights may change the political narrative? In all likelihood, the BJP would surmise that simultaneous polls-where local factors get buried, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi becomes the star campaigner, would be a killer blow to the Congress.

The BJP would also keep in mind that rising unemployment, the falling Indian rupee vis-a-vis the dollar and a steady fall in the government's popularity could all be risk factors for the BJP, especially if the Congress manages to bag a few states and the Opposition manages to come together before the next General elections.

And while BJP's national president Amit Shah dismissed talk that the 2019 general elections may be preponed and indicated that simultaneous elections may not be feasible due to lack of political consensus, it is also true that nothing can be ruled out definitively in politics – everyone holds their cards close to their chest.

So, keep your eyes on Karnataka. It may just be one state but a victory for the BJP might have much bigger ramifications. It may just be the temptation the BJP needs to win the General elections, retain Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and knock the Congress out once and for all. All this with just one shot.

Click here for LIVE updates on Karnataka Assembly Election Result 2018

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Updated Date: May 15, 2018 08:06 AM

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