In Karnataka, it’s a battle of ‘guarantees’

The BJP has pitched “Modi ki Guarantee” against the Congress’ successful implementation of the Five Guarantees. 

Published : Apr 28, 2024 18:17 IST - 7 MINS READ

Congress supporters at a roadshow in Bengaluru on April 3.

Congress supporters at a roadshow in Bengaluru on April 3. | Photo Credit: IDREES MOHAMMED

In mid-March, a senior Congress leader in Karnataka confessed to this correspondent that the party would be happy even if it won 7 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in the State since this would be a significant improvement over the one seat it won in 2019. Things have changed substantially since then for the Congress, with party insiders now confidently estimating that they will win 12-14 seats, if not more.

This surge of optimism is matched by the findings of the latest survey conducted by, a Kannada news portal that accurately predicted the number of seats the Congress would win in the 2023 Assembly election. According to the survey, conducted in mid-April, the Congress could win 13 to 18 seats, with the BJP-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance winning the rest. Karnataka votes in two phases, on April 26 and May 7, with 14 seats in each phase.

All through April, the Congress set the electoral narrative through a barrage of messaging, focussing on two key issues: its successful implementation of the five guarantees that were proclaimed in the run-up to the Assembly election, and the injustice in the devolution of funds from the Union government. While the impact of the guarantees (especially the free bus travel for women) is tangible, the Congress has also broken down the intricacies of the fiscal-federal relationship to emphasise that taxes collected in Karnataka are not used for development works for the State but diverted to other parts of the country.

Also Read | South Karnataka: April 26 to see tough fight for 14 seats

According to Muzaffar Assadi, former Dean, Faculty of Arts at the University of Mysore, this focus on State issues will help the Congress as “there is a paradigm shift in the voters of Karnataka who used to vote on national issues but are thinking more about State issues now”.

This message has struck its intended target, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, and other BJP leaders have been forced to respond. At a rally in Chikkaballapur on April 20 that Modi and former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda of the JD(S) attended, Deve Gowda even waved a copy of The Hindu displaying an advertisement of the Congress that claimed that Karnataka received only Rs.13 for every Rs.100 that its taxpayers contributed to the Union exchequer. The nonagenarian followed this up with a strong rebuttal highlighting the Modi government’s largesse to Karnataka.

With no major charge of corruption in its almost year-long reign and subdued public dissension between Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and his deputy, D.K. Shivakumar, the Congress has also not given the BJP any opportunity to build a campaign against the party. The drought across Karnataka, the worst in four decades, could have provided the BJP with ammunition to target the Congress, but even this failed to take off as the State government approached the Supreme Court with a writ petition accusing the Union government of denying financial assistance for drought management in the State.

R.K. Radhakrishnan breaks down the factors that are likely to determine voters’ choices in phase 2 and phase 3 of the Lok Sabha election in Karnataka, the BJP’s response to the first phase of polling, etc. | Video Credit: Camera and editing by Samson Ronald K.; explainer by R.K. Radhakrishna; presented by Saatvika Radhakrishna

The BJP alleged that crimes have been on the rise since the Congress came to power and the State’s economy was heading towards bankruptcy because of the unsustainable expenditure on the five guarantees. But, again, the accusations are not substantively backed by data.

The BJP, which ran an aggressive campaign during the Assembly election focussing on communal issues, has attempted to sporadically highlight issues such as the bombing at Rameshwaram Café, allegations of slogans favouring Pakistan in the Vidhana Soudha, and so on. But none of these cases, premised on the rhetoric of “Muslim appeasement”, has translated into a sustained campaign that could have built up a groundswell of support for the party.

BJP MPs such as Pratap Simha, Nalin Kumar Kateel, and Ananth Kumar Hegde, known as aggressive votaries of Hindutva, have not been renominated. Former Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa, who was unceremoniously removed from his position in 2021, was brought back into prominence when his son, B.Y. Vijayendra, was made State president, and his candidate, R. Ashoka, the Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly. All these developments point to the party having backed off from underlining a surcharged communal message to voters.

The BJP roadshow in Bengaluru on April 23.

The BJP roadshow in Bengaluru on April 23. | Photo Credit: IDREES MOHAMMED

Y.G. Jagadeesh, a senior political affairs journalist with the Kannada newspaper Prajavani, agreed with this assessment: “If you examine the basis on which BJP candidates have been chosen, more than their endorsement of Hindutva, it is the individual’s political family, caste, and personality that are responsible for their selection.”

In this scenario, the BJP is banking on the charisma of Modi, who has visited the State thrice, to sway the electorate. BJP leaders are reaching out to the electorate with the mantra of development and the success of Central government schemes such as free ration and the Ujwala Yojana (provision of free LPG).

Even though the BJP has not foregrounded communal issues in its campaign so far, the murder of a Lingayat girl called Neha Hiremath by a jilted youth called Fayaz Khandunayak on April 18 in Hubballi gave the party an opportunity to swoop down on the case as an instance of “love jehad”.

Also Read | ‘Electoral democracy is not an even playing field in India today’: Krishna Byre Gowda

Modi’s strident campaign in Rajasthan on April 21, where he falsely accused the Congress of stating in its manifesto that it would divert resources to Muslims, worked like a dog whistle for his followers in Karnataka as well. The BJP leadership in the State organised protests across Karnataka on April 22, possibly in an attempt to polarise the electorate on communal lines or even get the party’s loyal Lingayat voters across north and central Karnataka to reiterate their faith in the BJP. Modi made a similar last-ditch attempt during his campaign for the Assembly election as well, when he appealed to voters to raise the slogan “Jai Bajrangbali” (Hail Lord Hanuman) before casting their vote but this did not rouse the electorate then, which brought back the Congress.

The BJP is also placing faith in its cadre’s ability to convince fence-sitters. With its 25 MPs facing allegations of not having represented Karnataka’s interests adequately in the Lok Sabha, several incumbents have been replaced. With the BJP’s emphasis on “Modi ki Guarantee” pitched against the Congress’ five guarantees, Karnataka is set to see a battle of “guarantees”.

In terms of diversity, the majority of the candidates—both from the Congress and the BJP-JD(S) alliance—are Lingayats and Vokkaligas, the two dominant castes of Karnataka. While the Congress has no Brahmin candidates and has also given a ticket to a Muslim, the BJP-JD(S) alliance has three Brahmins and fewer backward-class candidates, reflecting the respective social bases of both the formations. Political dynasts have been privileged by all the three parties, with the most egregious example coming from Deve Gowda’s family: His son (H.D. Kumaraswamy), grandson (Prajwal Revanna), and son-in-law (Dr C.N. Manjunath) are contesting the election. In the Congress, a staggering 16 candidates are political dynasts while the number from the BJP is 8. (A point that needs to be made here is that this tally includes political debutants as well as experienced politicians).

Some of the high-profile contests that the State will see include the battle for Bengaluru Rural where Shivakumar’s brother and three-time parliamentarian, D.K. Suresh, is contesting against Dr Manjunath. The battle, apart from testing the impact of the BJP-JD(S) alliance, is also a direct fight between the families of Shivakumar and Deve Gowda for the Vokkaliga vote in south interior Karnataka.

The voting trend here will spill over in eight constituencies where the JD(S) has a presence, although the party is competing in only three seats. In Dakshina Kannada, famed as the laboratory of Hindutva and a constituency that the BJP has won continuously since 1991, the Congress is mounting a spirited campaign. The Congress candidate, Padmaraj R. Poojary, a Billava and a newcomer, is pitted against Captain Brijesh Chowta, a Bunt and a former soldier who is also contesting his first election.

Also Read | In a blow to BJP, Lingayat seer enters political fray in Dharwad Lok Sabha seat

Shivamogga will test the loyal BJP voter, as one of the senior-most leaders of the party, K.S. Eshwarappa, has raised the banner of revolt and is contesting as an independent candidate. Pitted against him are B.Y. Raghavendra, Yediyurappa’s son, and Geetha Shivarajkumar from the Congress, the daughter of former Chief Minister S. Bangarappa.

In Mysore-Kodagu, the BJP replaced its incumbent candidate with the scion of the Mysore princely state, Yaduveer Krishnadatta Chamaraja Wodeyar, who is banking on his forefathers’ legacy. Siddaramaiah is personally investing efforts in this constituency where the Congress’ candidate, M. Lakshman, presents himself as the “common man”.

In Dharwad, the key question for the BJP is whether the Lingayats will continue to support the party given that a prominent Lingayat pontiff, Fakir Dingaleshwar, has been spearheading a campaign against Union Minister Pralhad Joshi, the BJP’s Brahmin candidate. 

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