The Karnataka assembly election campaign seems to have no single dominant issue. But what are the issues that matter to voters and that political parties are putting at the centre stage?
1. Kannada Pride
Incumbent Chief Minister Sidaramaiah was the first to kick off the theme of Karnataka Pride. Strategically, it is seen as a counter to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s nationalism pitch. He has spoken of a separate flag for the state, questioned the use of Hindi signage in the city’s Metro and notified Lingayats as a separate religious community with minority status.
The BJP is now playing catch up with speeches and statements on Karnataka Pride. At one election rally Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of the “ill treatment” of Field Marshall Cariappa and General Thimayya – two of the greatest military heroes from from the state – by previous Congress governments. The Congress, in turn, has criticised campaigners like Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Prime Minister Modi calling them “North Indian imports”.
2. Agrarian Distress
As in many parts of the the country, farmer distress is a big concern in Karnataka.
About 2,729 farmers have committed suicide in in the state between 2014 and 2016, according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau. The BJP has consistently highlighted this issue in its campaign.
Modi has slammed the state government for shoddy implementation of central schemes like the crop insurance scheme. His party has promised to waive crop and other agricultural loans from state-owned banks and cooperative societies.
The Congress has retorted that it’s a “pro-farmer government” and has combated the drought situation efficiently. Their manifesto promises to improve farm productivity, reduce costs and increase price stabilisation, among other things.
3. Water Crisis
The shortage of water in the state is another big issue.
According to the 2011 census, water demand in Bengaluru alone was about 18 thousand million cubic feet of water for a population of about 8.5 million, but the shortfall was 5.8 TMCs. By 2031, the shortfall is expected to grow to 10.7 TMCs.
The need for water has become a political issue with BJP’s chief ministerial candidate BS Yeddyurappa hoping for a favourable agreement from the BJP Chief Minister in Goa Manohar Parrikar regarding sharing of the Mahadayi river (also known as Mandovi) water which originates in Karnataka. In January, the Goa government said before the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal that it could not share water with Karnataka as the diversion of river water would violate previous court orders and cause potential damage to marine ecology, environment and wildlife.
The Congress will try to highlight this in its campaigns.
Both parties have made significant promises to improve irrigation in Karnataka in their election manifestos. While the Congress promised to spend Rs 1.25 lakh crore on irrigation over the next five years and create an agricultural corridor, the BJP said it would reserve Rs 1 lakh crore for irrigation projects and provide lift irrigation projects in Shikaripura.
Modi kicked off his campaign trail with a blistering attack on what he calls the ‘2+1 and 1+1 formula’, referring to Congress leaders and their kin getting tickets from the party.
His biggest target is Chief Minister Siddaramaiah who is contesting from Chamundeshwari and Badami constituencies while his son Yatheendra is contesting from his safe seat of Varuna. Karnataka Home Minister Ramalinga Reddy’s daughter Soumya as well as Law Minister TB Jayachandra’s son Santosh have found a place in the Congress’ list.
In an attempt to perhaps drive home the nepotism charge, BS Yeddyurappa’s son BY Vijayendra was denied a ticket from the Varun constituency by the BJP. The attack has been partially blunted, though, with seven tickets going to mining baron Janardhan Reddy’s extended family.
5. Urban Decay
With 28 out of 224 seats, state capital Bengaluru may not make or break this election but its infrastructure and other woes are likely to come up in the campaign rhetoric.
A recent Indian Institute of Science report said the city may become unlivable by 2030 if the traffic congestion and pollution levels are not brought under check. A seven-kilometre steel flyover proposed by the government had to be scrapped after citizens protested against the environmental damage it could cause and the BJP claimed there was corruption involved.
Bengaluru’s potholes are now legendary. Its lakes catch fire because of illegal dumping of waste mixed with mass untreated sewage. The city was on the list of the top 10 metros worldwide that are fast moving towards ‘Day Zero’—when taps start running dry, according to a report by the Centre for Science and Environment.
This is one area where the incumbent government will find it difficult to convince the people of Bengaluru that enough has been done.