Finally, the heat and dust of a gruelling election campaign have settled in the 14 constituencies of southern Karnataka — quite literally with rain arriving on the eve of polling day. The voters will decide the political fate of their leaders on Thursday.
Despite the shortage of time and daunting heat, there was intense campaign, especially in the last fortnight. Raids by Income Tax officials on close associates of candidates of the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) stepped up poll heat and this was demonstrated by protests, including one led by Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy outside the I-T office here.
Personal attacks during rallies and roadshows, release of fake videos, and audio tapes leaked through social media marked the campaign, which has been distinct from that during the past elections.
This time around, traditional rivals, the Congress and the JD(S), are fighting together in a general election for the first time, making it a straight fight between the coalition partners and the BJP in majority of the constituencies. Interestingly, Congress leader Siddaramaiah and JD(S) supremo H.D. Deve Gowda, who have not seen eye to eye for over 15 years, campaigned together this time in their attempt to create a united front against the BJP.
The focus has been on Tumakuru, Mandya, and Hassan from where JD(S) ‘family’ — Mr. Gowda and his grandsons K. Nikhil and Prajwal Revanna — are contesting.
BJP-backed Independent and actor Sumalatha has posed a serious challenge to Mr. Nikhil, also an actor and son of the Chief Minister, in the Vokkaliga heartland of Mandya, which has hogged all the limelight.
To add to the drama, actors Darshan, Yash, Doddanna, and Rockline Venkatesh have reached out to almost every village in the constituency. Unlike the Mandya stars, actor Prakash Raj, Independent contesting in Bengaluru Central, led a silent campaign.
The poll outcome is expected to have an impact on the stability of the coalition government as well as the future of the JD(S).
Clash of narratives
While Prime Miniser Narendra Modi has so far visited the State five times, Congress president Rahul Gandhi toured thrice. The campaigns have seen two strands of narratives.
Attack on the Union government for demonetisation, GST, Rafale deal, anti-farmer policies, and unemployment formed the dominant themes of the alliance’s electioneering.
The BJP’s campaign focused on alleged corruption in the coalition arrangement — by terming it a “20% commission government” — and more dominantly on the national security issues in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack. Mr. Modi, at some rallies, even accused the Chief Minister and leaders of the coalition parties in Karnataka of harbouring “anti-national” sentiments. This narrative led to a volley of words between the two camps.