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Karnataka takes centre-stage

Karnataka takes centre-stage
With the campaign for the Karnataka Assembly elections coming to an end on May 10, the stage is set for polls on May 12 and results on May 15. In less than a week, the nation would know which party Karnataka's voters have chosen to rule their state. All the three main contenders to power – BJP, Congress, and JD(S) – have expressed their confidence in winning the election with a majority. But, it is widely believed that the main contest is between Congress and BJP. The two parties are locked in a close contest on most of the seats. As per an opinion poll, BJP has a slight edge over Congress but it is unlikely to get a full majority on its own. Though, at this stage, BJP has ruled out an alliance with JD(S), but after the elections the party may try to rope in JD(S) for an alliance. Depending on the number of seats Congress wins in this election, it may also try to forge a post-poll alliance with JD(S) to form its government. For many reasons, the Karnataka election is being watched with keen interest by opposition politicians and political analysts across the nation. They have pointed out that during the election campaign, both Congress and BJP, have ignored local issues. They have also ignored key national issues that should have been debated during the campaign trail. Both the parties have resorted to mocking one another. By deserting the issue of economy and employment, they have left the intellectual class without any food for thought. Congress president Rahul Gandhi, during the initial phases of the election campaign, had tried to raise some of these issues but in view of the constant mockery of his leadership by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah, he eventually shifted his focus. He too resorted to dubbing the BJP leadership as a gang of Gabbar Singh, Sambha, and Kalia. While it suits the BJP leadership to divert the attention from key issues, it may not help Congress, which needed to highlight the achievements of Siddaramaiah's five-year rule in the state. By constantly attacking Rahul Gandhi and the Gandhi family during the election campaign, BJP has tried to ensure that Rahul Gandhi and Congress emerge as the chief political opponent of Modi. After a series of setbacks in the recent Assembly elections, the Congress's ability to take on the BJP on a national level is considerably undermined. It needs to align with other opposition parties before it is able to put up a credible fight against Modi and BJP. In an election rally, former Congress President Sonia Gandhi had tried to respond to BJP's charges. She said that Modi's speeches cannot fill the empty stomach of the poor. And, during an interaction, Rahul Gandhi has affirmed that he is a Prime Ministerial candidate for the 2019 election.
In all likelihood, Karnataka election results will set the tone for the 2019 general elections in the country. The victory of BJP in the election will further prompt the opposition parties to develop a common strategy against the party in power. So far, TMC chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has taken the lead in unifying the opposition parties ahead of the 2019 general elections. During her Delhi visit in the recent months, she held parleys with an entire range of opposition leaders. The opposition's strategy to field common candidates against BJP in all the seats may not work if issues like the distribution of tickets in a manner that opposition votes are not divided are sorted out in time. For the strategy to work, the opposition leaders will have to show more flexibility and fine tune their give-and-take formula. As is clear from the Karnataka election campaign, the BJP may not allow the opposition to talk about serious issues. For this, the party may try to polarise the voters on communal lines. Opposition leaders like Mamata Banerjee are acutely aware of this possibility. Recently, during the Ram Navami festival, communal tension flared up in West Bengal and Bihar. These issues invariably go on to polarise and consolidate votes in favour of BJP. The opposition leaders must be watching out for Karnataka Assembly election results as it will bring forth a trend about what the voters think about deserting serious issues in the election rallies. The election results are also likely to impact the forthcoming elections this year in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and Mizoram. BJP will have to survive an anti-incumbency factor in three of the states.
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