Karnataka Assembly Election 2018: Siddaramaiah makes it 'secular' vs 'communal' as BJP awaits Narendra Modi's charisma

Talk of elections in Karnataka and the most recent imagery that pops up is the public bickering between Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and his Uttar Pradesh counterpart Yogi Adityanath. The two chief ministers were seen, obliging each other with lessons on administration over Twitter, lest you forget it's poll time in the state.

However, what the pre-election exchange on the microblogging site did is clarify to the uninitiated that the election discourse is going to be the usual brew of religioncasteregionalism, and development (strictly in that order). For the southern Indian state has notoriously been in news over the activities of fringe groupsmurders of political activists, a spike in anti-Hindi sentiment, and at last about the state of infrastructure, and a host of everyday problems the people of the state deal with.

Karnataka is Congress' last big bastion from the bouquet of major states it once ruled and the party will try all its might to retain it.

Karnataka, the seventh largest Indian state by area and the eighth largest by population, has a bicameral legislature. Like the Union legislature, some of the states in India follow a bicameral system wherein the legislature is divided into two separate Houses. A bicameral legislature comprises a Lower House and an Upper House. The former is known as the Legislative Assembly (Vidhan Sabha) and the latter is called the Legislative Council (Vidhan Parishad).

The southern state is divided into 224 Assembly constituencies. The state has 30 districts and 33 election districts. In 1986, a resolution was passed in the Legislative Assembly and approved by the Parliament, which increased the strength of the Legislative Council to 75.

As this politically-crucial state heads to the poll, here is a rundown of everything you need to know.

Karnataka demographics

According to 2011 Census, Karnataka has a population of 6.11 crore which is an increase from 2001 Census when the population was 5.29 crore. The total population of Karnataka as per 2011 Census is 61,095,297 of which male and female are 30,966,657 and 30,128,640 respectively.

The election in the politically charged Karnataka is expected to be held between the last week of April and the first week of May. Out of total Assembly constituencies, 36 are reserved for Scheduled Castes and 15 for Scheduled Tribes. The total number of voters in the state as of now is 4.90 crore, and the number of polling stations is 56,694. The state is regionally divided into three sections: North, South and Coastal Karnataka, the latter emerging as a communally sensitive area inclined towards the BJP, while the Congress maintained a stronghold in the first two, in the last Assembly election.

The state, which has seen a recent uptick in the anti-Hindi politics and a completely fresh phenomenon, the rise of Hindutva politics, has defied national voting trends in the past.

The state, which has seen a recent uptick in the anti-Hindi politics and a completely fresh phenomenon, the rise of Hindutva politics, has defied national voting trends in the past.

The total population growth in this decade was 15.60 percent while it was 17.25 percent in the previous decade. The population of Karnataka formed 5.05 percent of India in 2011.

Sex ratio in Karnataka is 973 females against 1,000 males, which is below the national average of 940 as per Census 2011. In 2001, the sex ratio of female was 965 per 1,000 males in the southern state.

Karnataka is a Hindu-majority state with 84 percent population following Hinduism while 12.92 percent of the state's population are Muslims.

Political history

In the ring are three major contestants. While the ruling Congress, bolstered by the results of pre-poll surveys, would hope to gain a second term in power, BS Yeddyurappa, now rejoined with the BJP, will hope to secure a second term as chief minister with the saffron party. However, a strong third force in Karnataka politics, Janata Dal (Secular) is hopeful of becoming the silent kingmaker in the state.

The first chief minister of Karnataka, before the reorganisation of the state, was K Chengalaraya Reddy (from 25 October 1947 to 30 March 1952). After reorganisation, S Nijalingappa of the Congress became the first chief minister of Mysore (then Karnataka). From 1956 to 1968, Congress was a formidable force in the state. In March 1971, President's Rule was imposed for the very first time in the state when Congress leader Veerendra Patil was the chief minister. He ruled the state between 29 May, 1968 and 18 March, 1971 before his government was reduced to a minority. As there was no other option before the then governor GS Pathak, he recommended the imposition of President's Rule. The Assembly remained dissolved between 19 March, 1971 and 20 March, 1972.

Karnataka has a chequered past as far as President's Rule is concerned. In fact, 2007 was the sixth time that President's Rule was imposed in the state. In the past, President's Rule was imposed four times when the Congress was in power (1977, 1989 and 1990 apart from 1971) and twice later when the Janata Party and the BJP were in power.

In the year 1990, the rule was imposed for a very short period after the Veerendra Patil was removed from the post of chief minister by the Congress high command. The then governor, P Venakatasubbaiah, had recommended the imposition of President's Rule. This pattern of governance remained in force between 10 October, 1990 and 17 October, 1990 before S Bangarappa took over as chief minister of Karnataka.

Electoral history

The state, which has seen a recent uptick in the anti-Hindi politics and a completely fresh phenomenon, the rise of Hindutva politics, has defied national voting trends in the past. According to this Firstpost articleKarnataka has a history of voting for one party at the Centre and another in the state or backing a party in the state different from the one ruling at the Centre. While this statement may seem to impress Congress' claims on a victory, especially with its newly-appointed president Rahul Gandhi's promise of a new, transformed, Grand Old Party, another trend points in the opposite direction: The ruling party has always lost in Karnataka since 1985. Peruse a short summary of elections held since.

File image of BJP leader BS Yeddyurappa. News18

File image of BJP leader BS Yeddyurappa. News18

1989: The Congress lost the Lok Sabha elections after a sustained campaign by the Opposition against, among other things, the Bofors scandal, and VP Singh of the Janata Dal became the prime minister. However, Karnataka surprised many as the Congress won 27 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats, and the ruling Janata Dal suffered a rout winning only one seat. In the simultaneously held Assembly elections too, the Congress came to power with a whopping majority by winning 178 of the 224 seats, replacing the previous Janata Dal government which could bag only 24 seats. The BJP, still a nascent phenomena in the state at the time, could win four seats.

1994: The Congress government headed by PV Narasimha Rao was in power at the Centre. But the 1994 Assembly elections in Karnataka not only saw the return of the Janata Dal government headed by HD Deve Gowda with 115 seats but also the fall of the Congress to the number-three position of the BJP, with just 34 seats. The saffron party bagged 40 seats and for the first time took the position of the official Opposition party with BS Yeddyurappa as its leader.

1999: In the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP-led NDA won a majority in the Lok Sabha. But in Karnataka, the Congress won most of the Lok Sabha seats (18 of the 28) and the Assembly seats (132 of the 224 seats). The Congress government of SM Krishna replaced the Janata Dal government and the BJP came a poor second with 44 Assembly seats. The Janata Dal's rout was widely attributed to the party's split at the national level. While the JH Patel-led Janata Dal (United) allied with Yeddyurappa-led BJP, Deve Gowda-led JD(S) decided to go solo. The two factions, together, could manage only 29 seats. Their loss was Congress' win, and the BJP once again was the Opposition party with 44 seats.

2004: In Lok Sabha polls, the UPA trounced the NDA and formed its first government, but the BJP got the largest number of 18 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka. In the state Assembly elections too, the BJP emerged as the single largest party with 78 seats, though the Congress formed a government in alliance with the Janata Dal (Secular), the first ever coalition. However, it is noteworthy here that what happened henceforth started another trend, in the state's electoral outcomes. A coalition government has never survived a full five-year-term in the state. In 2006, just two years after the new government, Deve Gowda's own son, HD Kumaraswamy rebelled against his father, marshalled a majority of the JD(S) legislators and went to ally with the erstwhile arch enemy, BJP, India Today reported at the time.  The second coalition experiment, formed on the basis of a power-sharing agreement, once again came apart as Kumaraswamy formally ended the alliance in October 2006, Frontline reported.

2008: Merely four years since previous elections, the state saw Assembly elections. However, this time around, with the bitter coalition experience with JD(S) still fresh in its mind, BJP was clear it will not enter into any alliance, saying it would prefer to sit in Opposition rather than forge an awkward alliance to retain power. The caution exercised by the saffron party turned out to be needless, as the state gave it a clear majority with 110 seats, and led by Yeddyurappa, BJP came to power for the first time in a southern Indian state. The Congress, of course, was once again in power at Centre, and Karnataka again chose a different government in the state from the one at the Centre.

2013: Once again in 2013, while Karnataka brought back the Congress to power in the state, the BJP won 17 of the 28 seats in the Lok Sabha elections a year later and the GOP [WHAT IS GOP] was ousted from power at Centre after 10 years of UPA rule. This year's Congress win was attributed to the rather tumultuous previous term of the BJP. Yeddyurappa, facing corruption charges, was forced to resign as chief minister and fell out repeatedly with his two successors. In the end, miffed with the national leadership for sidelining him after the corruption charges surfaced, Yeddyurappa walked out of BJP in November 2012 and formed his own party, the Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP). This, in effect, divided BJP's votes and saw Congress' return to power. The politically powerful Lingayats, Yeddyurappa's community, split between BJP and KJP among other Hindu castes, and Siddaramaiah rode to power on a consolidation of Dalit and minority votes.

Key players

Just like the recently-concluded election in Gujarat, all hopes are pinned on the star campaigner of the party Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The proverbial Modi magic is still running strong, some may say, as the saffron party in this southern state of India hopes that "magic" will get them across the winning line in a state considered to be BJP's gateway to the South.

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath is increasingly being called upon by the BJP to campaign far and wide, outside his home turf. The head of the Gorakhnath Peeth in eastern Uttar Pradesh has been present at major events organised by the BJP and the RSS in the last nine months he has been in power — from the "killing fields" of Kannur (where BJP launched a high decibel campaign this year to find a firm hold on Kerala politics) to RSS coordination committee meetings in Mathura.

Strong network and deep-rooted presence of the Sangh Parivar, however, will probably make the climb easier for the BJP. Karnataka is the only state in the South which had a BJP government from 2008-13, led by Yeddyurappa, DV Sadananda Gowda and Jagadish Shettar. BJP, currently the principal opposition party with 44 seats, has four more than Janata Dal (S) in the 224-member House.

Here are a few leaders from Karnataka who are expected to make a difference and drive their parties to victory:

BS Yeddyurappa

"Lingayats are the decision makers in many constituencies in north Karnataka. We are hoping that they would vote en masse for Yeddyurappa this time too," a BJP leader was quoted as saying by The News Minute.

Yeddyurappa, a Lingayat leader, was 15 when he joined the Sangh Parivar. His political career began in Shikaripura, which would later send him to the Karnataka Assembly six times. It began at the taluk level of the Jansangh and he diligently worked his way up, even being jailed during Emergency.

Indicted by Lokayukta over illegal mining issue, BJP top brass had forced a reluctant Yeddyurappa to quit as chief minister in July 2011. A bitter Yeddyurappa left the party to form Karnataka Janata Paksha. He was, however, welcomed back after almost a year and given the primary leadership of the party.

Now, he is the chief ministerial candidate for this year’s election.

The saffron party is banking on his strong appeal in the Lingayat community and likely wants him to contest from north Karnataka, where the BJP won fewer seats than the Congress in the 2013 elections.

With anti-Lingayat accusations against Siddaramaiah, the BJP hopes to benefit from the Lingayats loyalty to Yeddyurappa.


Confident of a waning Modi magic in the country after Congress managed to win 77 seats in the Gujarat election last year, Siddaramaiah is sure of a victory again. A smiling chief minister, according to News18, told his aides that if Congress manages around 80 seats in Gujarat, he can once again win Karnataka.

He joined Congress about 12 years ago after leaving former prime minister Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular) and was largely looked at as an outsider by the party cadre. However, as this Firstpost article points out, he has now become a local mascot.

He was made the chief minister in 2013 by Rahul. It is reported that both the leaders share a good personal rapport and with Rahul becoming the Congress president, Siddaramaiah has emerged as an unchallenged party leader in Karnataka.

Despite allegations of corruption against him and his son, Siddaramaiah’s popularity has only grown. By opposing the imposition of Hindi by the Centre, he has been appealing to the Kannada pride.

His popularity seems to be Congress’ best bet to counter BJP’s Yeddyurappa. The fight is seen as a direct battle between the two after Congress named Siddaramaiah as its chief ministerial candidate.

G Parameshwara: Asked to devote all his time to the upcoming polls by the Congress leadership, G Parameshwara resigned as Karnataka’s home minister in June, 2017. According to Livemint, many dissidents backed Parameshwara for the post of chief minister in 2018 but, the party put any such speculation to rest when it backed Siddaramaiah to continue in the post.

He will contest the upcoming polls from his home constituency of Koratagere. By keeping a Dalit leader as the state Congress chief, the Congress is hoping to keep his Dalit support base.

The Congress’ decision, as News18 reported, came after caste surveys indicated a bigger population of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward castes in Karnataka as compared to Lingayat and Vokkaliga.

Major poll issues

Apart from development, which became the major poll issue in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh last year and was raked by BJP leaders in every rally, Karnataka also has its own problems.

With the state facing a severe drought and farmers committing suicide from the resulting crop loss, the water sharing issue with other states is expected to capture the attention of every political leader campaigning in the state.

Here are a few major issues which are expected to be raised during the campaigning:

Water: With the Cauvery water issue still fresh in people's minds and now Mahadayi taking centre stage, water politics will be an important issue in the upcoming Karnataka polls.

The Mahadayi dispute affects the North Karnataka region, where the farmers are demanding their fair share of water. It has the states of Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka vying for water from the Mahadayi or Mandovi river, which flows through the three states.

Karnataka is seeking release of 7.56 tmcft water by Goa from the river for the Kalasa-Banduri Nala project.

The issue is now being raised by both the BJP and the Congress to score brownie points. BJP chief Amit Shah told leaders of Karnataka BJP to aggressively take up the Mahadayi issue and "launch a multi-pronged campaign to channelise the anger of the people", as The Indian Express reported.

In a strange series of events, Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar wrote to Yeddyurappa saying Goa could share the river water with Karnataka for drinking purposes and expressed his willingness for bilateral talks.

Later, Siddaramaiah termed it a 'drama' for the sake of elections and a 'political gimmick'.

This is not the first time there have been violent protests in Karnataka over the sharing of river water with its neighbours.

Karnataka has a decades old dispute going on with Tamil Nadu over the sharing of Cauvery river water. Protests and violence paralysed the state after the Supreme Court order to release 15,000 cusec of Cauvery river water to Tamil Nadu for a period of ten days.

"Both Cauvery and Mahadayi have the potential to be election issues. While the Mahadayi controversy is already raging, a lot depends on how the Cauvery verdict (likely next month) plays out. It's likely to be exploited by all parties to the hilt," The Times of India quoted Sandeep Shastri, a political analyst, as saying.

Siddaramaiah is hoping to gain from the farmers’ protest against Yeddyurappa for claiming a breakthrough in the Mahadayi issue.

Communal tension: Terming Congress a 'secular' party, Siddaramaiah said the upcoming polls would be a fight between two ideologies -- communalism and secularism. He also reiterated his stand that his government would take stringent action against organisations instigating communal sentiments in the state.

The coastal regions of the state, specifically Dakshina Kannada, has continued to remain tense. In the latest incident, 28-year-old Deepak Rao, who was associated with the Bajrang Dal and the VHP, was hacked to death by a four-member gang, following which simmering tension prevailed in Dakshina Kannada district.

The protests in the wake of the incident turned violent and RSS leader Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat accused the government of adopting an "anti-Hindu policy".

Following the murders in Dakshina Kannada, Kalladka emerged at the forefront as a controversial figure and his rise also fanned speculations that the Sangh Parivar is also trying to reinforce the Hindu identity to regain the region in the polls.

The BJP, as a party strategist told The Citizen, will make Hindutva the plank for the state elections. "Hindutva will be our main poll plank in Karnataka and we will win 150 of the total 224 seat under the leadership of Yeddyurappa," he said.

Development: Modi, while addressing a gathering in the state, expressed confidence that the BJP will win the Karnataka polls and then the state would be on the "path of development."

Development, which was a major issue in last year's elections to Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh Assemblies, is becoming a major issue for Karnataka as well.

Siddaramaiah recently said that Karnataka's development can be a model for other states. He was quoted as saying by The New Indian Express, "A unique development model based on the principle of social inclusiveness to make Karnataka hunger-free and ensure health and housing for all would be a reality soon." [LINK]

Parameshwara reiterated Congress' commitment to development by saying that the party is not playing the politics of divisiveness based on caste and religion, but politics of development.

While the BJP is making development its core issue in every election, Congress is also not far behind in the state of Karnataka. The various development projects launched by Siddaramaiah and his insistence on completion of government projects have ensured that the party can get development points in the state.

Published Date: Jan 19, 2018 11:12 AM | Updated Date: Jan 19, 2018 11:12 AM

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