While the BJP seems to be gaining, these figures will provide little comfort to Messrs. Modi and Shah. It is absolutely necessary for the BJP to snatch Karnataka from the Congress if it has any pretensions of calling itself a pan-Indian party. For, the state is its best bet in south India, where it does not have a footprint. The BJP had ruled the state for a full term of five years from 2008 to 2013. It has the necessary infrastructure, local leaders and dedicated workers in place. There are no small local parties to queer the pitch like in other southern states. Hence, the BJP has to work hard in the home stretch to swing at least 25 more seats. Some say this will happen when Modi hits the campaign trail.
The Congress can take heart from the fact that there is no negative wave against Siddaramaiah. In fact, most polls show that he is the preferred choice for chief minister of a large number of people. At 46%, he pips Yeddyurappa by a clear margin of 14 percentage points. But since people will vote for the party and not Sidda, the Congress will also have to work hard to translate its vote share, which sees a two percent jump despite incumbency, into seats. Siddaramaiah has called Modi, Shah and Yogi north Indian imports of the BJP. Now how will he use Rahul Gandhi to campaign for the Congress? Still, the Congress should make the most of the absence of anti-incumbency wave to retain the state. It will be a huge boost for the party. Conversely, a loss in Karnataka will mean that the party will lose the last big state it is ruling. The stakes are very high for Rahul Gandhi.
On the other hand, the JD(S) is sitting pretty. It knows that it can never hope to form the government on its own. But more importantly, it also knows that given the emerging situation, the Congress and the BJP will not be able to form the government without its support. Although the party is not going to hit the high point of 2003 when it got 58 seats, it is expected to get a respectable 40, a number that is good enough to make it the king maker. The wily H D Deve Gowda and his son H D Kumaraswamy have played their cards well and have not let the two national parties eat into their loyal vote bank, which has hovered between 20 to 21.5% for the last 15 years. Now, the duo must be readying for hard bargaining in case people return a hung assembly as predicted by the opinion polls.
With the JD(S) vote share not amenable to poaching, both the Congress and the BJP will have to target fence sitters and those who vote for the so-called others- independents or candidates of very small parties. Opinion polls show that more than 18 percent of this vote share has shifted loyalty. But 5 percent still remains. Both the parties will have to work their way with these voters to make up the shortfall of seats that will prevent them from forming the government. It seems even that will be insufficient and JD(S) will hold the trump card. With the Congress already having accused the JD(S) of having a secret alliance with the BJP, it stands lesser chances of winning it over. Does the BJP then stands a chance of forming the next government in Karnataka with the help of JD(S)? Will BSP, the alliance partner of JD(S), allow that to happen? Only time will provide an answer to that.