Politics of yatras take centrestage as K’taka Assembly polls draw closer

With less than six months left for the Assembly polls to be held, Karnataka is already experiencing the heat and dust of poll campaigning.

The multitude of political yatras that the state is witnessing and will see in the coming months is an indication to it.

The state’s political players are becoming roadies in their quest for victory at the hustings. The southern state with 224 assembly seats is due to have elections by May 2023.

The stunning return of the BJP to power in Gujarat for the seventh consecutive time with a record number of winning candidates has spurred the ruling party into aiming for a victory in Karnataka too. On the other hand, the Congress’ victory in Himachal Pradesh comes as a shot in the arm for the opposition party in Karnataka.

Keeping aside issues like size of the states or the margin of victory, the just concluded Gujarat, and Himachal Pradesh assembly polls have thrown up a 1-1 verdict for the BJP and Congress respectively. The focus now shifts to Karnataka where the two national parties are the frontrunners in the power stakes.

The Karnataka leg of Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ (BJY) in September-October set ball rolling in the state. Starting off from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu on September 7, the BJY entered Karnataka on September 30 and ended on October 15. The party used the yatra to aggressively attack the Bommai-led ruling party on the issue of corruption, communalism and farmers problems.

Apparently flustered by the public response to the BJY, the ruling BJP hit back with its ‘Jan Sankalp Yatra’. Beginning on October 11 and concluding on December 25, the ruling party is reaching out to fifty assembly constituencies through this exercise spearheaded by Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai and former Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa.

While the Congress is confident that it will return to power in the state in 2023, Bommai has been emphatic that the opposition party does not stand any chance of victory in the state.

Karnataka, however, may prove to be far more difficult for the BJP to conquer than Gujarat. The party is mired in corruption charges, and is under fire on infrastructure shortcomings in the capital city.

For the Congress, apart from Kerala, Karnataka is the only southern state where the it retains considerable political traction. However, the party has its fair share of internal politics to make victory a reasonably tough proposition.

Despite their public posturing, the rivalry between KPCC president D.K. Shiv Kumar and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah is an open secret.

Party sources claim that the two leaders have shored up plans to lead seperate bus yatras from different parts of the state to drum up support for the Congress.

Siddaramaiah’s bus yatra will begin from the north and D.K. Shiva Kumar will set off from the south, a party source said. “They are both strong leaders in their own right and must be eyeing the chief ministership if the Congress wins the polls,” a party leader said on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, the Janata Dal (Secular) set up by former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda has its own plans for the forthcoming assembly polls. Despite being a marginal player, the party has emerged as a kingmaker on different occasions resulting in its leader H.D. Kumaraswamy becoming Chief Minister on two occasions – in 2006 and later in 2018.

The party hit the roads in November with its ‘Panchratna yatre’ from Mulbagal in Kolar district. Kumaraswamy said their target is 123 seats out of the 224 assembly seats at stake. While this may be more poll rhetoric, observers feel that the party needs to stay relevant and the yatra is its attempt at positioning itself as a serious player.

For the next few months, Karnataka roads are bound to see more traffic of the political kind as parties buckle up for the first major assembly poll battle of 2023.

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