Karnataka is all set to start voting on Thursday for the first 14 Lok Sabha seats - including Bangalore - in the central and southern regions of the state. A total of 241 candidates are in the fray for these seats. The remaining 14 constituencies will go to polls in the third phase on April 23. There is one marked change in the state's political landscape in these general elections. For the first time in over three decades, former foes Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) will field joint candidates against the BJP, making it a two-way battle.
Incidentally, 1989 saw the last one-on-one electoral battle in Karnataka, where the Congress trounced JD(S). But post the BJP emerging as a major party in Elections 1991, the state had veered towards a three-party system with the BJP in the clear lead since 2004. Then, the last assembly elections in May 2018, threw up a hung house, and the BJP, despite winning 104 seats, failed to form the government. Instead, the Congress, which had won 79 seats, and JD(S), with 37, joined hands and formed a coalition government.
This post-poll arrangement has been extended to the general elections. The Congress and JD(S) will contest for 21 and 7 seats, respectively, India Today reported. Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president Dinesh Gundu Rao, for one, believes that the alliance will help bag more than 20 seats.
But given that the leaders of the two parties share little chemistry - both parties are facing trouble at the grassroots level - the big question is whether the BJP can capitalise on the fissures to increase its tally in the state. Congress leaders in Mandya last week refused to campaign for JD(S) candidate Nikhil Kumaraswamy, son of Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy. The rebellion was led by N. Cheluvarayaswamy, who had left the JD(S) for the Congress in the 2018 assembly poll. He was caught on tape soliciting support for independent candidate and former actor Sumalatha, who the BJP is backing. While Congress leaders were unable to persuade booth-level workers to support JD(S) candidates in Hassan and Shivamogga, in Mysuru, JD(S) leaders are unwilling to support Congress's C.H. Vijayashankar.
Within the JD(S), Deve Gowda is still considered the star campaigner along with the CM, who announced several sops ahead of the polls in the southern districts. Significantly, Gowda and his grandchildren, Nikhil Gowda and Prajwal Revanna - who is making his Lok Sabha poll debut - have cornered three of the party's seven seats.
Kumaraswamy belongs to the Vokkaliga community, the second largest in the state accounting for 13 per cent of the state's 64.06 million headcount, the report added. But the community does not enjoy any powerful representation at the national level in the NDA government, unlike the Lingayats - the single largest community in Karnataka with 17 per cent of the population. Many Vokkaligas believe that the JD(S) represents their political aspirations, and have been supporting the party. However, the poor presence of the party in the Lok Sabha has divided the community, prompting the Vokkaligas to vote for the Congress. They are spread across the southern, central and northern parts of the state. While in the Cauvery basin, the Vokkaligas rally behind the JD(S), it is not the same in urban areas like Bangalore.
On the other hand, the Lingayats have aligned themselves en masse with the BJP, especially with BS Yeddyurappa heading the party in Karnataka. Last month, after the Lok Sabha election dates were announced, Yeddyurappa had declared that if BJP manages to win 22 seats in the state, he will form the government in Karnataka within 24 hours. "The 6.5 crore citizens of Karnataka are cursing this current government to fall apart," he had added while addressing a gathering. Interestingly, the party is fielding Congress rebels from Hassan, Ballari and Kalburgi. Several of the other BJP candidates in the fray are incumbents who are expected to emerge victorious this time too.
With PTI inputs