The Lok Sabha elections in Karnataka are crucial for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to retain its majority, having won a staggering 25 out of the 28 seats in 2019. The Congress tally was reduced to one seat.

A setback for the saffron party in this important Southern State, where it has a base, could upset its larger national-level calculations. The Congress is equally determined to wrest the political initiative from the BJP in Karnataka. Polling in the State is in two phases, on April 26, and May 7.

Not leaving anything to chance for the Lok Sabha elections in 2024, the BJP has entered into an electoral alliance with the Janata Dal-Secular (JDS) of former Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda. While BJP is contesting 25 seats, JDS is contesting three seats.

This alliance is considered formidable, as the two parties complement each other. The BJP represents Lingayats and the JDS represents the Vokkaligas. Together, they control two domineering communities in Karnataka.

Three former State Chief Ministers belonging to the BJP-led alliance are in the electoral fray. While H. D. Kumaraswamy of the JDS is contesting from Mandya, BJP leader Basavaraj Bommai is contesting from Haveri, and Jagdish Shettar, also of BJP, is contesting from Belagavi.

Following denial of ticket by the BJP in the Karnataka Assembly elections in 2023, Shettar quit the saffron party. But, in January, 2024, he returned to the BJP-fold.

To contest for the Lok Sabha, he wanted the Dharwad seat, which was given to Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Prahlad Joshi. Instead, Shettar has now been given Belagavi, a seat he was reluctant to contest from. It remains to be seen how it will all pan out.

Karnataka has long been a Congress stronghold. The Grand Old Party is keen to reclaim its bastion, now under siege. After the split in the Congress in Bengaluru in 1969, Karnataka remained with the Congress, with D. Devaraj Urs at the helm.

After the split in the Congress on January 2, 1978, the State came under the sway of the Congress-I in the State Assembly elections in March, 1978, with Urs storming back to power.

After D. B. Chandre Gowda resigned as MP from Chikmagalur, Indira Gandhi contested and won in the by-election from Chikmagalur in November, 1978, bouncing back on the national political centrestage.

In 1999, when Sonia Gandhi was all set to make her electoral debut from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, she contested and won a second seat from Bellary in Karnataka. This win gave her a pan-India standing. S. M. Krishna was the State Chief Minister from 1999 to 2004.

Steadily, the Congress began to lose its grip over the State, yielding ground to the BJP in Karnataka. With D. K. Shivakumar at the helm as KPCC President, the Congress stormed back to power in 2023.

Seeking to consolidate on its return back to power recently, the Congress is strategising to regain the upper-hand over the BJP in the State. For the Congress, which is seeking to raise its national seats tally, Karnataka is among the focus States, especially as the Congress Government is in office.

Putting its best foot forward, the Congress has entrusted the command to two of its strong leaders, State Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, an OBC leader belonging to the Kurba community and State Deputy Chief Minister D. K. Shivakumar, presently doubling as the Karnataka PCC President, who is a Vokkaliga.

Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge, who is also Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, has stepped back, deciding not to stand for the Lok Sabha polls from Kalburgi (Gulbarga), where he won nine times in the past. His winning streak was halted in 2019.

This time, Kharge's son-in-law D. Radhakrishna has been given the ticket to contest in Kalburgi. Kharge's son Priyank Kharge has been given charge of Kalburgi. Priyank has to win back Kalburgi, long represented by his father.

The BJP has steadily strengthened its stranglehold on the Lok Sabha seats in Bengaluru. In fact, the BJP has had its hold in Bengaluru South from 1991, on Bengaluru North since 2004 and in Bengaluru Central since 2009.

Karnataka Deputy CM Shivakumar's brother D. K. Suresh, has been fielded from Bengaluru Rural. The BJP has shifted Union Minister Shobha Karandlaje from Udupi-Chikmagalur to North Bengaluru, to stand for election against Karnataka State Planning Board Deputy Chairman Prof Rajeev Gowda.

Former Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman K. R. Rehman's son Mansoor Ali Khan has been fielded by the Congress from Central Bengaluru.

Karnataka Minister R. Ramalinga Reddy's daughter Soumya Reddy has been fielded from Bengaluru South. She is set to challenge BJP Yuva Morcha President Tejasvi Surya, who is the sitting MP.

Initially, the Congress was keen on fielding heavy-weight Ministers like K. H. Muniyappa and H. C. Mahadevappa for parliamentary elections. The Ministers declined to contest, preferring instead to field their own kith and kin.

In the face of stiff resistance, the party decided to field their relatives as the candidates, putting the onus on these Ministers to ensure Congress victory in the ongoing elections.

Sons of Karnataka Ministers Lakshmi Hebbalkar, Mrinal Ravindra Hebbalkar, from Belagavi, Sagar Khandre, son of Eshwar Khandre, from Bidar and Sunil Bose, son of H. C. Mahadevappa, from Chamarajanagar, has been fielded.

Similarly, the party has given tickets to Minister Satish Jarkiholi's daughter Priyanka Jarkiholi from Chikodi, Minister Shivanand Patil's daughter Samyukta Patil from Bangalkot and Prabha Mallikarjun, wife of Minister S. S. Mallikarjun and daughter-in-law of veteran party leader Shamanur Shivashankarappa, in Davangere.

It's a keen contest in Karnataka between the Congress and the BJP. An assertive Congress is determined to win back its bastion.

Impact of this contest is likely to be significant, both on the national and State political scene. The upcoming mega national elections are a high-stakes contest in Karnataka, with both the national parties engaged in a bitter fight for survival.