Preview: Congress, BJP both claim they will win Karnataka, but regional JD(S) might play kingmaker
The Congress is trying to hold on to its largest state while the saffron party wants to add to its tally before the 2019 General Elections.
Counting of votes cast for 222 of the 224 Assembly constituencies in Karnataka will start at 8 am on Tuesday. With over 72% of the electorate having voted, the state polls had the highest turnout since the 1952 Assembly elections.
The elections were pitched as a battle between a grand old party fighting for survival and the country’s ruling party looking to boost itself ahead of the big general elections next year. The Congress now rules just four states – Karnataka, Punjab, Mizoram and Puducherry. The two faces vying for Karnataka’s chief minister’s spot are the incumbent Siddaramaiah and BS Yeddyurappa of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
HD Deve Gowda, a former prime minister and the chief of the Janata Dal (Secular), will be relevant since exit polls have suggested a hung Assembly is likely.
The elections are significant because Karnataka is the only major state remaining with the Congress.
In the run-up to election day
Over 72% of nearly five crore registered voters chose from over 2,600 candidates in 222 constituencies. Two remaining constituencies, Bengaluru’s Rajarajeswari Nagar and Jayanagar, will go to the polls later.
The Election Commission claimed to have recovered as much as Rs 94 crore in cash and liquor worth Rs 24.78 crore in the run-up to the elections. The EC also recovered clothes, vehicles, utensils and electronic gadgets worth Rs 66 crore.
On the penultimate day of campaigning, the Election Commission recovered 9,746 voter ID cards from an apartment in Bengaluru’s Jalahalli area, which triggered a bitter exchange of accusations between the Congress and the BJP. Two days later, the Bengaluru Police filed a case against 14 people including a Congress MLA.
A day before the polls, the Congress urged the Election Commission to disqualify BJP candidate B Sriramulu a day after it released two videos that allegedly show him attempting to bribe a relative of former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan for a favourable verdict in an illegal mining case.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah were the key campaigners for the BJP, while Rahul Gandhi made frequent appearances in the Congress’ public meetings across the state.
Narendra Modi’s speeches were characterised by attacks on the Nehru-Gandhi family, while Rahul Gandhi suggested he was ready to become prime minister. Modi repeatedly claimed that the Congress was preparing for a loss. Modi’s predecessor, Manmohan Singh, chipped in with his criticism of demonetisation and the hasty implementation of the Goods and Services Tax.
Mining baron Gali Janardhan Reddy, charged for corruption, briefly seemed relevant for the BJP until the Supreme Court rejected his plea to get permission to go to Ballari and campaign for his brother. The party fielded his two brothers as candidates.
Siddaramaiah is contesting the elections from two constituencies – Chamundeshwari in Mysuru and Badami in North Karnataka. He currently holds the Varuna seat, where his son Yatheendra is the candidate this time.
The Bharatiya Janata Party has promised to waive crop loans up to Rs 1 lakh and provide free accidental insurance cover of up to Rs 2 lakh for landless agricultural labourers if voted to power. It also promised a Rs 5,000-crore “market intervention fund” to help farmers deal with changes in crop prices.
The Congress promised to generously allocate funds for welfare programmes to improve the social and economic status of minorities – a promise that was challenged in the Supreme Court. It also vowed to provide money for the education of children from minority communities. Rahul Gandhi said the party’s manifesto contains the “Mann Ki Baat of people of Karnataka”.
Nearly two months before the elections, the Congress government accepted the recommendation of a committee to recognise the Lingayats as a separate religion, in a move that was seen as appeasement.
The agrarian distress, the state’s water disputes with Tamil Nadu and Goa, the Lingayats’ now-fulfilled demand for a minority status, and the state’s Kannadiga pride were important issues for voters during the election campaign.
Where the parties stand
Siddaramaiah has been in power since 2013, while Yeddyurappa was chief minister between 2008 and 2011. Yeddyurappa has predicted – he said he can “give it in writing” – that his party will win more than 120 seats. His positivity had prompted his opponent to call him “mentally disturbed”. The majority mark is 113.
No party has retained power in Assembly elections in the state in nearly four decades.
Exit polls have predicted that the JD(S) may play kingmaker as no party is likely to get enough seats to form the government alone. Each party has still gone ahead and claimed that it will not need anyone else to rule the state. No party had announced a pre-election alliance, so Deve Gowda’s options are open.