By Sandhya Ravishankar
By November 2022, the Karnataka Congress was ahead of the Karnataka BJP according to pollsters. Their campaigns like the “40% Sarkara” and “PayCM” had kicked off early, and a lot of noise in the media and social media had contributed immensely to their advantage.
The Congress had also begun whisper campaigns – a section of bureaucrats and IPS officers had been spoken to and convinced that the Congress is coming to power in the state in May 2023.
“Bureaucrats from Karnataka are saying Congress is in pole position,” the owner of a large IT firm told The Lede.
It is evident that a section of the bureaucracy and administration is spreading the message widely in an effort to create what is called “hawa” or perception.
But the situation on ground in rural Karnataka is rather different.
There is no “hawa” of any sort. Neither for the BJP, nor for the Congress or the JD(S).
This year, the election in the state is very local and micro in nature. Issues have come down to overflowing drainage, lack of good roads and pollution from industrial areas.
There is no anti-incumbency against the state government or the BJP’s leadership. But there is a lot of anti-incumbency against a number of sitting MLAs of the BJP who have not visited their constituencies.
For instance, in Musalapur village in Koppal district, Lingayat farmers told The Lede that they would vote for the BJP if the MLA candidate was changed. The sitting MLA is from the BJP. But having been perceived to have done no work in the Kanakagiri constituency that the village falls in, even traditional BJP voters like the Lingayats are demanding a change of face.
There is no visible anger against either the state government or Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai.
But state government schemes have not reached the people and farmers are not aware of the flagship schemes of the state government such as the Raita Vidya Nidhi which provides a portion of the fees for education of underprivileged farmers’ children.
Even the news about the announcement of the hike in quota has not reached the Scheduled Castes. Scheduled Tribes do not know what the status of the reservation is.
Congress leaders are also actively spreading disinformation on ground about the reservation hike. “The Centre has rejected it despite the state government passing it,” said Durgesh Dodmani, a Congress councillor at Sharana Basaveshwara Camp in Gangavati, Koppal district. “The BJP are fooling Scheduled Castes,” he said forcefully to a rapt audience of SC Madigas. Incorrect it may be, but the message is doing the rounds.
While the BJP has a number of failings, the infighting between former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Congress party state president DK Shivakumar Congress, the lack of prominent and popular faces (Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi do not make the cut here) and a misplaced narrative on corruption that people are not concerned about, are all bound to drag them down.
Popular faces and larger than life mass leaders do matter in some areas of Karnataka and while the Congress has only Siddaramaiah as its most popular face, the BJP has two big faces – former Chief Minister and BJP Parliamentary Board member BS Yediyurappa and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, both of whom have enormous goodwill in the state.
From an advantageous position, the Congress has managed to slide down and allow the BJP to take its space. Corruption, say villagers, has always been there. But they speak of this when prompted, not on their own.
As of today, according to in-house polls conducted by the parties themselves, both the Congress and the BJP are neck and neck – each party is ahead in 80-90 seats. The JD(S) remains confined to its usual 20-30 seats.
It is open season in Karnataka as of now. Either of the parties could win. And a clear majority cannot be written off either.