GANAPATHI BHAT, AKOLA
Fortunes are fluctuating by the day in the hard-fought campaign to the May 12 Karnataka elections, nominations for which ended on Tuesday. When poll dates were out, the Congress party was seen as an overwhelming favourite to retain the key south Indian state. But not anymore, as conflicting opinion polls have predicted a hung assembly. Some reputed pollsters have not forecast any party to reach the 100-seat mark in an assembly where 112 is the magic number to rule. Now, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Janata Dal(S) of former prime minister H D Deve Gowda is all set to force the major parties dance to its tune in one of the fiercest battles ever in the election history of Karnataka. The BJP is all out to project the “anti-incumbency” hurdle for Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s government. The whirlwind tour of party president Amit Shah across the state has galvanised the party cadres, who had almost given up before the battle had even begun. Shah’s top priority was to nullify or minimise the ‘Lingayat card’ played by Siddaramaiah and, by all accounts, he appears to have done well in his mission. For the Congress, however, it is Siddaramaiah all the way with Rahul Gandhi only adding lustre to the campaign. The Chief Minister’s slew of populist measures over the last year has been able to buffer the anti-incumbency to a great extent. Both, the Congress and the BJP are taking all precautions to smother the possibility of leaning on the JD(S) which has significant hold over the old Mysuru, Hassan and Kolar districts dominated by the Vokkaligas. Moreover, the rustic touch and immense popularity of Deve Gowda is bound to strike a chord with the rural electorate. Gowda’s decision to forge an alliance with Mayawati’s BSP may get the JD(S) few seats more because the Dalits seem to be let down by the two national parties. However, if that astounding orator Narendra Modi has his way, then it will be BJP on the highway to success. The Prime Minister is expected to start his campaign with a flourish from May 1, and the BJP leaders will be hoping their ever dependable PM will deliver for them again.