The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) faces a tough battle in Karnataka's first phase of polling for 14 Lok Sabha seats on April 18, as the ruling allies Congress and Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) have fielded joint candidates to prevent their bankable votes from splitting at the hustings.
"Though the BJP had won 6 of the 14 seats in the 2014 general elections in triangular contests, the going will be tough for it this time, as it faces our joint candidates with higher vote share prospects," a Congress official told IANS.
Of the remaining eight seats, the Congress had won six and JD(S) two in the 2014 polls.
Of the 28 seats in the state, BJP won 17, Congress 9 and JD(S) 2 in triangular contests on April 17, 2014, as the polling was held in a single phase then.
In a pre-poll tie-up, the Congress is contesting 10 seats and JD(S) four, while the BJP is contesting 13 seats in the first phase, as it is supporting multilingual south Indian actress Sumalatha Ambareesh, an Independent, in Mandya, about 100 km southwest of Bengaluru, a JD(S) stronghold.
The 14 constituencies in the first phase are: Udupi-Chikmagalur, Hassan, Dakshina Kannada, Chitradurga (SC), Tumkur, Mandya, Mysore, Chamarajnagar (SC), Bangalore Rural, Bangalore North, Bangalore Central, Bangalore South, Chikkaballapur and Kolar (SC).
The JD(S) is in the fray in Hassan, Mandya, Tumkur and Udupi-Chikamagalur, with Congress in the remaining 10 seats, including 4 in the Bengaluru region.
"As our combined vote share was 51.8 per cent against 43 per cent of the BJP in the 2014 general elections and 56.3 per cent against 36.2 per cent of the BJP in the 2018 assembly elections, our prospects of winning more seats jointly is brighter than that of BJP," claimed Congress official Ravi Gowda.
The Congress has fielded 5 of the 6 outgoing lawmakers from their respective seats, barring Tumkur, which it gifted to the JD(S) as part of seat-sharing.
The BJP too fielded 5 of the 6 outgoing lawmakers from their respective seats and fielded Tejasvi Surya from Bangalore South, as its six-time winner and Union Minister H.N. Ananth Kumar died in November, 2018.
The JD(S) has fielded its supremo H.D Deve Gowda from Tumkur, his elder grandson Prajwal Revanna from Hassan and another grandson, Nikhil Kumaraswamy, from Mandya and Pramod Madhavaraj, a former Congress minister, from Udupi-Chikamagalur.
Deve Gowda opted for Tumkur to enable Prajwal to contest from Hassan which he has won for a record six times since 1991.
"As joint candidates, our party JD(S) is in a strong position to retain Hassan, Mandya and Tumkur and give a tough fight to BJP in Udupi-Chikamagalur where the Congress has a good presence," JD(S) official Ramesh Babu told IANS.
Similarly, the Congress hopes to retain Bangalore Rural, Chamarajnagar, Chitradurga, Chikaballapur and Kolar with the consolidation of votes of the secular allies from the dominant Vokkaliga community, backward classes, Scheduled Castes and minorities.
The BJP, however, is upbeat on not only retaining the six seats it had won in 2014, but also wrest Chitradurga, Chikkaballapur and Bangalore Rural from the Congress, riding on the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the "achievements" of its NDA government at the Centre in the past 5 years.
"Just as we bounced back in 2014 Lok Sabha elections after losing the 2013 assembly elections, we are confident of winning at least 10 of the 14 seats in the first phase, as rural and urban people want Modi to continue as Prime Minister. Every vote for our party is a vote for Modi," BJP spokesman G. Madhusudhan told IANS.
The BJP also hopes to get "sympathy votes" from the electorate as its 3-day government had to resign despite winning 104 seats in the May 2018 assembly elections as it fell 9 short of the halfway mark (113) for a simple majority in a house of 224 elected members.
"The people will teach a lesson to the Congress and JD(S) for forging an unholy post-poll alliance to form a coalition government only to keep the BJP out of power at any cost despite having won more seats (104) than them separately," asserted Madhusudhan.
As the May 2018 assembly elections threw up a hung house, with the Congress winning 80 seats and JD(S) 37, the allies formed a post-poll alliance to form the 10-month-old coalition government on May 23, 2018 after the BJP government fell on May 19 due to lack of majority in the assembly.
The remaining 14 Lok Sabha in the state seats will go to the polls in the second phase, on April 23. Those contests will be in the coastal and northern regions of the southern state.
Counting of votes is on May 23 in all the 28 parliamentary seats