Siddhlingaiyya, a Dalit poet of Kannada literature and a professor in Karnataka University, aspires for a safe and prosperous Karnataka. Prof Natraj Huliyar, an eminent critic of Kannada literature, is more worried about protecting the secular threads of Kannada society, which have been its strength. Prof Gauda, a sociologist, admires Rahul Gandhi’s use of various tools during the recently held elections of Gujarat, regardless of the final results and beyond the dimensions of victory and defeat. He appreciates his hard work in the Karnataka election. Most of the intellectuals I met in Bengaluru also admired Chief minister Siddharamaiah for being concerned about the Kannadiga identity. I also met a few RSS activists who arrived at Bengaluru from various parts of India to work for the Karnataka elections. They are upbeat about their door-to-door campaign and forecast a better performance by the BJP in the forthcoming poll. A group of people sipping tea at a roadside stall on the outskirts of Bengaluru, were talking about prospects of Janata Dal (S). They were of the opinion that this election is going to be a do-or-die for the party.
The campaign for Karnataka is in full swing. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not joined yet, some people feel his entry in this election campaign may influence the outcome in a big way and will strengthen the BJP's performance. Rahul Gandhi is trying to create a positive atmosphere favouring the Congress. His rallies and roadshows are attracting large crowds. JDS has formed an alliance with BSP and is trying to woo Dalit and Muslim voters. All of this means that this Karnataka assembly election is going to be electorally very competitive, and it is very difficult to forecast at this stage who is going to come up trumps. Psephologists and election analysts have divergent views about election results. Some see the possibility of a Congress victory, and feel the party may emerge as the largest. Others foresee the possibility of a hung assembly. So it is very difficult to say what exactly is going to happen in terms of a result in this election.
Whatever the outcome, it is very clear that this election result will influence Indian politics in a big way. It has assumed importance because it is being held just after Gujarat polls, in which the Congress gave a tough fight to the ruling BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Everyone wants to see whether or not Congress sustains and develops its popular base among the public, by countering Narendra Modi and the BJP’s popularity. This election is also going to be a test case for Rahul Gandhi’s ability as Congress president and presents an opportunity for him to show he has the mettle to challenge and defeat BJP in future polls. A favourable outcome for the Congress could also aid the party's revival in other south Indian states such as Andhra Pradesh. From the BJP's perspective, a victory in Karnataka could derail the Congress and prove that the Grand Old Party has no future in the 2019 general polls. It would also pave the way for the saffron set up to forge ahead with its slogan ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’, besides marking the beginning of the BJP's consolidation in the south.
The Congress is working on evolving a number of identities to mobilise various sections of society based on caste, religion and region. The party's promise to give the Lingayats a separate religious identity may be analyzed from this perspective. Its emphasis on evoking Kannadiga identity to counter BJP’s emphasis on nationalist identity has made this election interesting.
What will the implication of Karnataka election be if Congress wins or emerges as the largest party in terms of seats? First of all, a perception will be created that the Congress has now emerged as a winnable political alternative for the 2019 parliamentary election .It will consolidate Rahul Gandhi's position within his party ranks, and will create grounds for his popular acceptance as a leader capable of defeating the BJP and Narendra Modi. It will also help revive the Congress in the other southern states. For BJP this election is crucial because it will send a message to the people that the party is still the only winnable proposition for 2019 parliamentary election. If it takes Karnataka, the saffron set up will get an opportunity to reassert its slogan of a Congress Mukt Bharat. But if it loses, a shadow will be cast on its prospects in 2019, and a roadblock will be created in its foray into the southern states. Worse, it may raise questions on Narendra Modi's leadership and his image as a winner, creating an alternative path for Indian politics.
Badri Narayan is the Director of the G B Pant Social Science Institute in Allahabad