Karnataka polls: Yeddyruppa back with bang, but Siddaramaiah hanging on; outcome will set tone for 2019 election

Ten years ago, the BJP opened new frontiers across Vindhayas by winning Karnataka. BS Yeddyurappa, a powerful leader from Lingayat community emerged as a hero.

BS Yeddyurappa. File photo. AFP

BS Yeddyurappa. File photo. AFP

But that new found glory didn’t last long, both for the party and the leader concerned. It took years for the BJP and Yeddyurappa to emerge from the rough patch it hit. Yeddyurappa is back in the party and its de facto chief ministerial nominee.

Ten years later, the BJP is ruling at the Centre and is in expansionist mode across the country. The Congress, which has otherwise become a diminished political force nationwide is holding firm in Karnataka thanks to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah.

Thus, when the people of Karnataka vote on 12 May, their ballot will not only decide who rules the state for next five years but the shape national politics could potentially take for 2019. Not just the Congress and its leader Rahul Gandhi, but almost an entire spectrum of so-called liberal-secular forces, political or otherwise are pinning their hopes on Karnataka polls.

If Congress retains Karnataka, it will come as a huge boost to the party and help workers and sympathisers believe in Rahul's leadership (even if it is really Siddaramaiah's victory) and generate hope that the Congress president has ability to counter the magic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and put him on a higher pedestal as some kind of challenger for 2019.

Conversely, Karnataka is yet another opportunity for BJP president Amit Shah to showcase his organisational ability (by pulling off another victory) and Modi’s charisma to draw massive crowds and convert that into votes. If BJP wins, Modi would take another step towards achieving his goal of 'Congress-mukt Bharat'.

Karnataka is the only big state ruled by the Congress. Two other Congress-ruled states are Punjab and Mizoram. Congress also is in power in Puducherry, a Union territory where V Narayansaamy is chief minister, but actual power is wielded by Lt. Governor Kiran Bedi.

In Karnataka, the BJP was voted out of power in 2013.  Yeddyurappa was forced to exit BJP and form his own political outfit, Karnataka Janata Paksh (KJP). Yeddyurappa got around 11 percent of the votes and BJP was restricted to around 20 percent of votes. Which gave the Congress a smooth win at the booth. The BJP strategists also figure that even as the electorate, for past few decades, have been following a revolving-door policy in state Assembly elections, they have continued to place their trust in the BJP.

Karnataka is among those states where Modi has been campaigning even when he was Gujarat chief minister: During 2008 and 2013 elections. The state also has substantive presence of Hindutva forces, both in urban and rural areas.

But this time around challenges are different for Modi and Shah: Not because Rahul is engaged in another round of temple-hopping, but because Siddaramaiah, while being part of the Congress, has projected himself as a regional chieftain and is inclined to do all kinds of political maneuvering to win the election such as coming out with idea of separate state flag and minority tag for Lingayat community. The first move was to woo sub-regional sentiment and second to create confusion within the BJP and Yeddyurappa's most influential support base.

Yeddyurappa’s skill and personal connect with voters, inside and outside of his Lingayat community can’t be underestimated. Shah is also spending great deal of time there. After Uttar Pradesh election, Karnataka is all set to be an exciting political theatre which will keep the nation hooked till 15 May, and even afterwards, for its wider impact.

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Updated Date: Mar 27, 2018 18:29:05 IST

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