Karnataka is a state in southern India, known for its rich cultural heritage, historic temples, lush forests, and vibrant cities. It is also a state that has been in the news recently, thanks to the high-voltage campaigning by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and opposition leader Rahul Gandhi for the upcoming assembly elections in May 2018.
The Karnataka assembly elections are being closely watched by political analysts and observers, as it is seen as a crucial test of strength for both Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Gandhi’s Indian National Congress (INC). The BJP is hoping to expand its base in southern India, where it has traditionally been weak, while the INC is looking to regain its lost ground and prove its relevance ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Both Modi and Gandhi have been crisscrossing the state, addressing rallies and meeting voters, trying to woo them with their respective visions and promises. Modi, who is known for his oratory skills and ability to connect with the masses, has been emphasizing on his government’s achievements at the national level, such as the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Digital India, Make in India, and Jan Dhan Yojana. He has also been highlighting the alleged failures of the INC in the state, such as corruption, misgovernance, and lack of development.
Gandhi, on the other hand, has been targeting the BJP’s Hindutva agenda, which he claims is divisive and detrimental to the country’s secular fabric. He has been trying to forge alliances with regional parties and leaders, such as the Janata Dal (Secular), to consolidate the non-BJP votes. He has also been highlighting the INC’s pro-poor initiatives, such as the loan waiver scheme for farmers, the Indira Canteen project for urban poor, and the free laptop distribution scheme for students.
The campaigning has been intense and acrimonious, with both sides trading barbs, insults, and allegations. The BJP has accused the INC of indulging in dynasty politics, nepotism, and corruption. It has also accused the Siddaramaiah-led government of appeasing minorities at the cost of majority Hindus, citing incidents of communal violence and cow vigilantism in the state. The INC, on the other hand, has accused the BJP of promoting communal hatred, intolerance, and fascism. It has also accused Modi of being a “chowkidar” (watchman) who has failed to protect the interests of the poor and vulnerable sections of the society.
The high-voltage campaigning has also witnessed the participation of several celebrities, activists, and intellectuals, who have lent their support to one or the other party. Actors, cricketers, musicians, and other public figures have been roped in to woo the youth and urban voters, who form a significant chunk of the electorate. Social media has also played a crucial role in shaping the narrative and the discourse, with both sides relying heavily on Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp to reach out to their supporters and neutral voters.
The Karnataka assembly elections, thus, have become a microcosm of the larger political battle that is being fought in the country, between the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the INC-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA). The outcome of the elections is likely to have far-reaching implications for the national political scenario, as it can either strengthen Modi’s position as a charismatic leader with a pan-Indian appeal or dent his credibility as a harbinger of change and development. It can also either revive the fortunes of the INC, which has been facing a string of defeats in various state elections, or push it further into irrelevance and disarray.
The people of Karnataka, meanwhile, have to make a crucial choice on May 12, 2018. They have to decide whether to stick with the tried and tested INC, which has ruled the state for several terms and has a track record of implementing welfare schemes and development projects, or to opt for the BJP, which promises a new era of governance, growth, and security. They also have to weigh the performance of the incumbent government, which has been under attack from both the BJP and the JD(S), and decide whether it deserves a second chance or not.
The high-voltage campaigning in Karnataka has brought to the fore the deep divisions and rivalries that exist in the state, between different communities, castes, and regions. It has also highlighted the power and influence of money, muscle, and media in shaping the electoral outcomes. However, it has also given voice and agency to the ordinary citizens, who have been actively participating in the debates and discussions, and who will ultimately have the final say in the matter. The Karnataka assembly elections, thus, offer a glimpse into the complex and vibrant democracy that India is, with all its perils and possibilities.