Karnataka is headed towards perhaps the most fiercely contested elections in recent times. Reports emanating from the ground suggest that both Chief Minister Siddharamaih and Prime Minister Narendra Modi enjoy their fair share of popularity. But which leader will pip the other remains to be seen.
The last elections in the state were the 2014 General Elections to Lok Sabha, where BJP won 17 out of the 28 seats and Congress won 9 seats. However, the vote share of BJP and Congress were 43 percent and 40.8 percent respectively. The vote share of BJP had actually declined in the state, from the 2009 election figures by 1.37 percent.
Also, the party needs to convert the popularity of the prime minister into votes at the Assembly level. This is a cause of concern because, in the 2013 Assembly Elections, the Congress bagged a 54.46 percent vote share and decisively trounced BJP, only to lose 14 percent of the vote share the very next year in the General Elections to Lok Sabha.
Hence, Karnataka remained an aberration in the larger 2014 victorious edifice of BJP. The challenge for BJP seems to be the quality of the electorate. South Indian states generally have a higher level of human development and have a remarked behaviour of exercising smart choices.
This suggests that the electorate is clear on its choices of the central and state leadership.
The important factor playing in favour of BJP is the anti-incumbency against Congress; this played in favour of Congress in 2013. This can be clubbed with the fact that 14 percent of the state's electorate this time are going to be first-time voters, where Prime Minister Modi is very popular.
The BJP very well realises this and that is why Modi is set to engage in 10 election rallies before the state goes to polls. The present campaign, however, focuses on targeting the Siddaramiah government and himself personally, for communally vitiating the atmosphere of the state. The rallies of the prime minister are expected to put the BJP organisation in motion.
There can’t be any doubt about the fact that Congress granted Lingayats the recognition as a separate religion from Hinduism, solely for a short-term benefit in these Assembly polls. This is much like the creation of Telangana state just before the general and state elections in 2014.
The BJP has the agency to effectively counter such a strategy and it has placed the election machinery at its disposal in its full strength in the state. In fact, one of the teams of election consultants – Association of Billion Minds — has been camping in the state for over a year now. However, the poll agenda for BJP, besides development, also rests with effectively managing the complex caste arithmetic in the state.
The Linagayats and upper castes have traditionally voted for BJP, this time the challenge is to keep the Lingayats together, and to have a share of OBC votes, which should drive the party home.
The Janata Dal-Secular (JDS) remains a relevant player in the state, and its success with its traditional vote bank of backward and scheduled caste communities can substantially help the election effort of BJP by dividing the anti-BJP votes. It has to be kept in the context of the pre-poll alliance between JDS and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which can emerge as a substantial puller of votes from the caste groups these parties represent. However, it can be said with confidence, that for JDS and its allies, the fight is to remain relevant. Therefore, Deve Gowda’s best interests are served by a hung Assembly, where he can ally with either of the national parties and form the government.
The author is a senior fellow with the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Bombay, Mumbai. He can be reached at email@example.com, Twitter: @raghavwrong
Updated Date: Apr 13, 2018 13:05 PM