The battle for Karnataka enters the last lap with polls barely ten days away. All the major contenders have geared up for an extensive campaign that got an impetus with Prime Minister Narendra Modi entering the fray in right earnest.
In a style reminiscent of the Gujarat campaign last December, the Prime Minister has given enough indications that he would not give an inch to his detractors. The voting to elect the 224-member Assembly is due on May 12 and results would be known on May 15.
Responding aggressively to Congress scion Rahul Gandhi seeking 15 minutes Parliament intervention to corner the Prime Minister, Modi played on his humble beginnings and retorted that the Congress president should speak without papers for 15 minutes on the achievements of the Karnataka government.
With the Prime Minister expected to campaign for five days in the State, the stage is set for a no holds barred campaign. Rahul Gandhi is also expected to spend an equal number of days in Karnataka before campaigning ends on May 10.
After getting a battering from the formidable election machinery of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under Modi-Shah team for the past three years, the Karnataka elections are seen as a major psychological test for the grand old party, the Congress. The mood in the party has been upbeat since it gave the BJP a fright in Gujarat, where a rearguard action by Modi saved the day for the BJP.
The better than expected Congress performance in Gujarat has suddenly given the grand old party hopes of retaining the southern State that BJP believes could be an indicator of its thrust towards South India. All poll surveys have so far indicated a close contest between the BJP and the Congress, giving hopes to Janata Dal (S) stalwart HD Deve Gowda of playing the kingmaker.
However, intensive poll campaign by both the national parties may end up squeezing the regional outfit that has been gasping for breath for the past decade. JD(S) is now a pale shadow of its past when its leader had emerged as a consensus candidate to be the Prime Minister of the Janata Dal government in 1996 hung Parliament.
The Congress quick footed response to challenges can largely attributed to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who cut his teeth under the political tutelage of Deve Gowda. A hung Assembly would enable Deve Gowda to settle scores with his one-time protégé, while a Congress win would see rise of another regional satrap after Amrinder Singh in Punjab.
Though there many believe that a Congress win in Karnataka would strengthen its bid to challenge Modi 2019 general elections, such a conclusion may be farfetched. Regional election trends do not necessarily repeat in the general elections as BJP realized in 2004 when it opted for early polls after decisive win in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. BJP suffered a shock defeat and Manmohan Singh emerged as Prime Minister of hastily put together United Progressive Alliance that kept BJP out of office for a decade.
A win in Karnataka will be a psychological boost for Congress to challenge BJP in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Rajasthan regional elections due late this year. General election is altogether different cup of tea as Modi still remains the most popular leader across the country.
But then the last vote in Karnataka election is 10 days away and Modi may spring another surprise as he did in Gujarat by the last minute surge. True picture will be known on May 15. Till then there may be many a slip between the cup and the lip.