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Karnataka Elections 2023: Race to the Throne

Congress, BJP, or JD(S)- who will be the king?

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Karnataka Elections
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The ultimate political showdown as Karnataka gears up for the 2023 elections. Who will emerge victorious in the race to the throne? the latest updates and analysis on this high-stakes battle for power.

The state of Karnataka is gearing up for a high-stakes assembly election on May 10, 2023. The election will decide the fate of the incumbent BJP government led by Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, who took over from B.S. Yediyurappa in July 2021. The main opposition parties are Congress, led by former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, and JD(S), led by former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda and his son H.D. Kumaraswamy.

The election campaign has been marked by intense political rivalry, allegations of corruption, defections, caste equations, and religious polarisation. The BJP has banked on the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who addressed several rallies across the state and highlighted the achievements of his government at the center and in Karnataka. The BJP has also tried to woo the dominant Lingayat community, which constitutes about 17% of the state’s population and is considered loyal to Yediyurappa.

The Congress has accused the BJP of misgovernance, mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic, and indulging in horse-trading to topple the previous coalition government of Congress and JD(S) in 2019. The Congress has also projected Siddaramaiah as its chief ministerial candidate and promised to implement various welfare schemes for farmers, women, youth, and backward classes. The Congress has also tried to consolidate its support base among the minorities, Dalits, and OBCs, who together form about 50% of the state’s population.

The JD(S), which was once a kingmaker in Karnataka politics, has been reduced to a marginal player after losing most of its MLAs to defections in 2019. The party has tried to revive its fortunes by appealing to its core constituency of Vokkaligas, who constitute about 12% of the state’s population and are concentrated in the southern districts. The party has also tried to forge alliances with smaller parties and groups representing farmers, Kurubas, Muslims, and Christians.

Caste Factor:

One of the key factors that will influence the outcome of the election is the caste factor. The Karnataka assembly election 2023 will be a test of not only the parties’ policies and programs but also their ability to manage and mobilize their caste equations and alliances. The election will also reflect how much impact caste has on the voters’ choices and preferences in a state that is known for its progressive and diverse culture.

Karnataka has a complex and diverse caste composition, with various communities having different political preferences and affiliations. According to the 2011 census, the state has 17.15% Scheduled Castes (SCs), 6.95% Scheduled Tribes (STs), 15.69% Lingayats, 11.54% Vokkaligas, 12.31% Muslims, 2.85% Christians, and 16.2% Other Backward Classes (OBCs).

The BJP has traditionally enjoyed the support of the Lingayats, who are considered to be its core vote bank. The Lingayats are concentrated in the northern and central regions of the state, where the BJP has a strong presence. The party also has a loyal base among the upper castes and some sections of the OBCs, especially in urban areas.

The Congress, on the other hand, has relied on the support of the SCs, STs, Muslims, and Christians, who form a significant chunk of its vote share. The party also has some pockets of influence among the Vokkaligas, who are dominant in the southern region of the state, especially in the old Mysuru region. The party has tried to woo the Lingayats by granting them a separate religious minority status in 2018, but it remains to be seen how effective this move will be.

The JD (S), which is led by former prime minister HD Deve Gowda and his son HD Kumaraswamy, has a strong base among the Vokkaligas, who are loyal to the Gowda family. The party also has some support among the SCs, STs, and Muslims, especially in rural areas. The party has been in alliance with the Congress since 2018, when they formed a coalition government after a hung verdict in the previous election. However, their alliance collapsed in 2019 due to internal differences and defections by some MLAs to the BJP.

The caste factor will also play a crucial role in determining the candidates and their winnability. The parties will have to balance their ticket distribution among various communities and regions, keeping in mind their strengths and weaknesses. The parties will also have to factor in local issues, development works, anti-incumbency sentiments, corruption charges, leadership qualities, and public perception while choosing their candidates.

Bajrang Bali Factor:

One of the key factors that is likely to influence the outcome of the polls is the role of Bajarang Bali, a term used by some Hindu groups to refer to Lord Hanuman, the monkey god who is revered as a symbol of strength, devotion, and loyalty.

Bajarang Bali has emerged as a prominent theme in the political discourse of Karnataka, especially after the controversy over the ban on Bajrang Dal, a militant Hindu outfit affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), by the Congress government in 2017. The ban was later revoked by the BJP government led by B.S. Yediyurappa, who invoked Bajarang Bali as a source of inspiration and protection for his party.

The BJP has been trying to consolidate its Hindu vote base by appealing to the sentiments of Bajarang Bali devotees, who constitute a significant section of the population in Karnataka. The party has also been projecting itself as the champion of Hindu causes and interests while accusing the Congress of being anti-Hindu and appeasing minorities.

The Congress, on the other hand, has been trying to counter the BJP’s narrative by highlighting its secular credentials and its development agenda for all sections of society. The party has also been questioning the BJP’s governance record and its handling of various issues such as the Covid-19 pandemic, farmers’ distress, unemployment, and corruption.

The JD (S), which is led by former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, has been struggling to retain its relevance and influence in Karnataka politics, as it faces a tough challenge from both the BJP and the Congress. The party has been banking on its traditional support base among the Vokkaliga community, which is dominant in some regions of the state. The party has also been trying to forge alliances with other regional and caste-based parties to increase its chances of survival.

The Bajarang Bali factor is expected to have a significant impact on the voting behavior and preferences of various communities and regions in Karnataka. According to some surveys and reports, Bajarang Bali enjoys a high level of popularity and devotion among several castes and sub-castes such as Lingayats, Kurubas, Valmikis, Banjaras, Madigas, and others. These communities are also considered to be swing voters who can tilt the balance in favor of any party.

Corruption, Cost inflation, Unemployment, and local factors

However, the Bajarang Bali factor may not be enough to ensure a decisive victory for any party, as there are other factors that may also influence the voters’ choices. These include local issues, candidates’ profiles, anti-incumbency sentiments, the performance of state and central governments, leadership qualities, corruption charges, and media campaigns.

The upcoming assembly elections in Karnataka in 2023 will be a crucial test for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition parties, mainly the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Janata Dal (Secular) (JD(S)). The state has witnessed several political developments in the past few years, such as the fall of the JD(S)-INC coalition government in 2019, the defection of several MLAs to the BJP, the change of leadership in the BJP from B.S. Yediyurappa to Basavaraj Bommai, and the recent cabinet reshuffle. These events have shaped the political landscape of Karnataka and have implications for the electoral outcomes.

Corruption Issue:

One of the major issues that will influence the voters’ choice is corruption. Karnataka has been ranked as one of the most corrupt states in India by various surveys and reports. The BJP came to power in 2019 with the promise of providing a clean and transparent administration but has faced several allegations of corruption and nepotism since then. The opposition parties have accused the BJP of indulging in horse trading, misusing central agencies, favoring certain communities and regions, and ignoring the interests of the farmers and the poor. The BJP, on the other hand, has claimed that it has taken several steps to curb corruption, such as implementing the Lokayukta Act, launching anti-corruption drives, and initiating disciplinary action against erring officials and leaders.

Cost Inflation Issue:

Another issue that will affect the voters’ decision is cost inflation. Karnataka has witnessed a sharp rise in the prices of essential commodities, such as food, fuel, electricity, and healthcare, in the past few years. The COVID-19 pandemic has also worsened the economic situation of the state, as it has affected various sectors such as tourism, hospitality, education, and manufacturing. The opposition parties have blamed the BJP for failing to control inflation and provide relief to the common people. The BJP has defended its policies by saying that inflation is a global phenomenon and that it has taken measures to mitigate its impacts, such as providing free food grains, subsidised gas cylinders, cash transfers, and loan waivers.

Unemployment Issue:

A third issue that will influence the voters’ preference is unemployment. Karnataka has one of the highest unemployment rates in India, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). The state has lost lakhs of jobs due to the COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, as well as due to other factors such as automation, skill mismatch, and policy uncertainty. The opposition parties have criticised the BJP for failing to generate employment opportunities and provide skill development and entrepreneurship support to the youth. The BJP has countered this by saying that it has created lakhs of jobs through various schemes and initiatives, such as PM-KISAN, PM-SVANidhi, PM-Awas Yojana, PM-Gram Sadak Yojana, and PM-Kaushal Vikas Yojana.

Apart from these issues, there are also some local factors that will play a role in determining the electoral outcomes. These include caste equations, regional aspirations, leadership quality, party organisation, alliance dynamics, and voter mobilisation. Karnataka has a diverse social composition, with different castes and communities having different preferences and expectations from the political parties. The state also has different regions with different levels of development and demands for autonomy or recognition. The leadership quality of the chief ministerial candidates and other prominent leaders will also matter for the voters’ perception of their credibility and competence. The party organisation and its ability to reach out to the grassroots level will also affect its performance. The alliance dynamics between different parties will also have an impact on their vote share and seat distribution. Finally, voter mobilisation and turnout will also determine how well each party can convert its support base into votes.

Opinion Polls and Surveys:

The opinion polls conducted before the election have given mixed results, with some predicting a clear majority for BJP, some suggesting a hung assembly with JD(S) as a potential kingmaker, and some indicating a close contest between BJP and Congress. The voter turnout is expected to be high, as more than 5 crore voters are eligible to cast their ballots in 58,282 polling stations across 224 constituencies. The counting of votes will take place on May 13, 2023, and the results will be declared on the same day.

According to various opinion polls and surveys conducted by different agencies, the election is likely to be a close contest between BJP and Congress, with JD(S) playing a spoiler role in some regions. However, some polls have also predicted a hung assembly, with no party getting a clear majority of 113 seats out of 224. In such a scenario, post-poll alliances and horse-trading may come into play and determine the final outcome.

As the campaigning for the election ends today at 6 pm, all eyes are on the voters of Karnataka who will cast their ballots on Wednesday amid tight security and Covid-19 protocols. The counting of votes will take place on May 13 and the results will be declared on the same day.

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