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Stage set for high-stakes Karnataka tomorrow; BJP looks to script history, Congress eyes comeback

As state leaders and candidates from different political parties thronged temples on Tuesday to seek blessings of god and good fortune on the eve of voting for the 224 Assembly constituencies

Published Date – 09:45 PM, Tue – 9 May 23

Stage set for high-stakes Karnataka  tomorrow; BJP looks to script history, Congress eyes comeback

Bengaluru: The BJP looks to script history to retain its southern citadel while a combative Congress eyes a comeback as Karnataka goes to polls on Wednesday at the end of a high octane campaign that was marked by a plummeting level of public discourse and grew increasingly shrill over the Bajrang Dal issue.

As state leaders and candidates from different political parties thronged temples on Tuesday to seek blessings of god and good fortune on the eve of voting for the 224 Assembly constituencies, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a video message to the people of Karnataka on Twitter seeking their blessings in the mission to make the state the number one in the country.

The Congress petitioned the Election Commission seeking immediate action against the prime minister for his appeals to Karnataka voters “in violation” of the model code, and said it was “a litmus test” for the poll body’s capacity and willingness to enforce laws.

In his message, Modi said the affection he has received in the state over the last few days has been unparalleled, and it has strengthened the resolve to make it number one across all sectors.

“Dream of every citizen of Karnataka is my dream. Your resolve is my resolve. When we come together and set our minds to a goal, no force in the world can stop us.” In an appeal to “brothers and sisters” of the State, Modi sought their blessings in the mission of making Karnataka the number one state in the country.

“My appeal is for the bright future of Karnataka. It is for the bright future of your family, especially the younger generations,” said the prime minister, who addressed 19 public meetings and held six roadshows as part of BJP’s aggressive campaign in the state.

In a lengthy complaint to the chief election commissioner, Congress general secretary in charge of Karnataka Randeep Surjewala asked the commission whether it will remain a “mute and helpless spectator” or fulfil its constitutional duty and act against the prime minster.

With the stakes being high in the mega battle of ballots, the major political parties in contention–the BJP, Congress and JD(S)–have made a strong pitch to boost their electoral prospects. The Aam Aadmi Party(AAP), which is in power in Punjab and Delhi, has also fielded candidates.

Voting will take place from 7 am to 6 pm amid tight security arrangements and the ballots will be counted on Saturday. A total of 2,615 candidates are in the fray.

While the ruling BJP, riding on the Modi juggernaut, wants to break a 38-year-old jinx — Karnataka has never voted the incumbent party to power since 1985, the Congress is hoping for a morale booster victory to give it a much-needed elbow room and momentum to position itself as the main opposition player in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

The battle-ready BJP with its well-oiled election machine ran its campaign with a blitzkrieg by Prime Minister Modi.

It was clear the ‘double-engine Sarkar’ sought to heavily bank on Modi’s appeal to bolster its campaign, shore up its prospects and fight “anti-incumbency”.

Also what needs to be watched out for is whether former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda-led Janata Dal (Secular) will emerge as a “kingmaker” or a “king” by holding the key to government formation, in the event of a hung verdict, as it has done in the past.

The Congress manifesto proposing to ban the Bajrang Dal heated up the later half of the campaign as the BJP and Prime Minister Modi aggressively latched on to the issue to portray the grand old party as being against Lord Hanuman and the sentiments of Hindus.

Modi also likened the proposed ban to locking up Hanuman itself.

He also made it a point to chant ‘Jai Bajrang Bali’ in all his speeches after the Congress released its manifesto.

Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai (Shiggaon), Leader of Opposition Siddaramaiah (Varuna), JD(S) leader H D Kumaraswamy (Channapatna) and state Congress President D K Shivakumar (Kanakapura) are the among the top candidates in the fray.

Other than Siddaramaiah and Kumaraswamy, Jagdish Shettar (Hubli-Dharwad Central) is the other former CM, who is in the fray. Shettar had recently joined Congress, quitting BJP.

Bommai and Shivakumar also visited Anjaneya(Hanuman) temples on Tuesday.

While Bommai visited the shrine at Vijayanagara in Hubballi and chanted “Hanuman Chalisa” with devotees there, Shivakumar paid a visit to the temple at KR Market in Bengaluru and offered prayers.

Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar along with a large number of Congress leaders and supporters also paid their obeisance to Goddess Chamundeshwari, the deity of Mysuru city.

Along with flowers, fruits, “Thamboolam”, incense sticks and purified butter, Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar presented a brief copy of the Congress’ election manifesto, which highlighted the party’s five “guarantees” in the event of it coming to power.

Barbs like ‘venomous snake’, ‘Vishakanya’ and ‘Nalayak beta’ vitiated the poll campaign as some leaders used intemperate and abusive language.

While Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, who hails from Karnataka, likened Modi to a ‘venomous snake’ and his son and Congress candidate Priyank Kharge called the prime minister a “nalayak beta”, BJP MLA Basanagouda Patil Yatnal described former Congress president and MP Sonia Gandhi as a ‘Vishakanya’ (venomous woman).

The Election Commission claimed that enforcement agencies in Karnataka seized over Rs 375 crore worth of liquor, drugs and “inducements’ which was 4.5 times more than what was recovered during the last assembly election in the state in 2018.

“A government with full majority” seemed to be the favourite slogan for the leaders of all the political parties during the campaigning that ended on Monday, as they stressed on getting a clear mandate to form a strong and stable government unlike what happened after the 2018 Assembly polls.

In the 2018 elections, the BJP had emerged as the single largest party by winning 104 seats, followed by Congress 80, JD(S) 37, and an independent, BSP and Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janatha Party(one each).

With no party having a clear majority and Congress and JD(S) making a bid to forge an alliance, BJP stalwart B S Yediyurappa staked claim and formed the government.

However, it had to resign within three days ahead of the trust vote, unable to muster numbers.

Subsequently, the Congress-JD(S) alliance formed the government with Kumaraswamy as chief minister, but the wobbly government collapsed in 14 months, as 17 legislators including independents resigned and came out of the ruling coalition, and defected to BJP. This was followed by BJP coming back to power and, in the bypolls held subsequently in 2019, the ruling party dominated by winning 12 out of 15 seats.

In the outgoing Assembly, the ruling BJP has 116 MLAs, followed by the Congress 69, JD(S) 29, BSP one, Independents two, Speaker one and vacant six.

The BJP’s campaign seemed largely “centralised” with the focus mainly on Prime Minister Modi, ‘double-engine’ government, national issues and programmes or achievements of the union government coupled with those from the state, including those on reservation.

The Congress by and large focused on local issues and its campaign also was run by its state leaders initially. However, its central leaders like AICC president Mallikarjun Kharge, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra pitched in subsequently.

The Congress was also aggressive on the plank of corruption accusing the BJP of being a ’40 per cent commission government’. But the party’s promise to restore the 4 per cent quota for Muslims was seized by the BJP to ramp up its Hindutva plank in the hope of consolidating votes.

The Congress claimed that it drove a positive and development-centric campaign with a vision for the Kannadigas while the BJP’s aim was to “distract, divide and deceive” the people.

The JD(S) ran a highly localised campaign, anchored solely by its leader H D Kumaraswamy, with party patriarch Deve Gowda too joining in later despite his advanced age and related ailments.

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