Karnataka polls: Electorate shuts the door on small parties despite the entry of at least 12 new players

Bengaluru: In contrast to previous elections, no party — apart from the big three — were able to claim a piece of the electoral pie in Karnataka this time around. Despite the fact at least a dozen new parties announced their entry into politics in the run-up to the state elections, they failed to draw voters away from the established players. From the earnest Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to the dubious Mahila Empowerment Party (MEP), most of them had to forfeit their deposits.

This includes Jana Samanyara Party, a farmer’s party that was established in north Karnataka to specifically bring a resolution to the Mahadayi issue and Kalasa Bandhuri project. They contested in 19 seats but, except party leader Ayyappa Dore who persuaded 2,981 people in Muddebihal, Bijapur to vote for him, didn’t move the needle anywhere else. The newly-minted Rani Chennamma Party, which contested from eight seats with the promise of giving Karnataka its first woman chief minister, didn’t even manage to garner 2,000 votes in all. Their candidate in Shirahatti managed to bag 573 votes, the highest the party got in any seat. In Govindraj Nagar, they only got 54; the winning BJP candidate got close to 80,000 votes.

MEP's popup office a few days before closing of nomination filing. Image courtesy: Ayswarya Murthy

MEP's popup office a few days before closing of nomination filing. Image courtesy: Ayswarya Murthy

Offshoots that merged back

So what’s become of the other start-up parties that were able to grab seats last time? In 2013, 13 members of the legislative Assembly represented registered but “unrecognised” parties. These included then disgruntled former BJP chief minister BS Yeddyuruppa’s Karnataka Janatha Paksha (KJP), which won six seats, and his acolyte B Sriramulu’s Badavara Shramikara Raitara Congress Party, which won four seats. Both of them have since returned to the BJP fold. While the remnants of KJP contested from 18 seats, they finished last in most of them and weren’t even present in the six constituencies from which they won last time.

Ashok Kheny, who won a seat last time as the sole candidate of the Karnataka Makkala Paksha, had moved to the Congress this time but finished a distant third. The Samajwadi Party, which won Channapatna in 2013, was not in the running this time. But the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) state head N Mahesh was able to clinch the reserved constituency Kollegal, just one of the 18 constituencies the party contested.

And finally, the late KS Puttannaiah’s Sarvodaya Karnataka Paksha (SKP), which won Melkote last time, was merged with Swaraj India. But his son Darshan Puttannaiah failed to hold the seat despite putting up a spirited fight and lost to the Janata Dal(S). Swaraj India had fielded 11 candidates but Puttannaiah, who came second with 73,779 votes, was by far the party’s best bet to get into the Assembly. The AAP, which fielded 29 candidates, was unable to even show up on the vote-share radar, presumably having failed to garner even 0.1 percent of the total votes polled.

It was expected that actor Upendra, who had joined Karnataka Prajnavantha Janata Party, would make some kind of electoral impact, but those hopes were dashed even before the elections when the actor quit the party due to differences in opinion with the founder. The party ultimately contested in 32 seats, won one in Ranibennur and collected 0.2 percent of the total vote share.

MEP earns a lakh votes across 175 seats

But in terms of the seats-to-vote share ratio, none performed worse than the MEP, a party which had flummoxed voters, journalists and analysts alike. If the party’s purpose was indeed electoral diversion like many had suggested in the run-up to the elections, the exercise was costly and futile. Its candidates contested from 175 constituencies but were barely able to collect 1 lakh votes in all these constituencies put together. Soon after results were announced, MEP founder Nowhera Shaik tweeted her thanks to the 1,00,000 people who voted for her party, saying it made her feel like she had won 1,00,000 seats. These voters were 100 percent real and not purchased through attractive gifts or cash, she added. “MEP believes in winning hearts (more) than winning seats,” was her final response to the whole affair. She promises their fight will continue.

So as far as the fear of smaller parties playing spoilsport is concerned, this did not come to pass. In five of the seats which were the most closely contested – Aland (margin – 697), Hirekerur (555), Kundgol (634), Maski (213) and Pavagada (409) – all but one was won by the Congress and the independents would have had a better chance of disrupting votes than any of the registered parties. In fact, the more interesting ‘margins-math’ this time around involved the few seats that BJP narrowly missed winning, which could have made all the difference in avoiding the kind of all-hours-of-the-day political drama that has been continually unfolding since the hung verdict was announced. In many of these seats, NOTA votes were more than the margins with which BJP lost.

The number of independents also came down drastically from last time around when nine MLAs without any party affiliations were able to find a place in the legislative Assembly. However, this time around, only one independent candidate was able to push through. Curiously, the independent MLA H Nagesh won from Mulbagal, a constituency with 40 contestants, the highest in this election. He was able to prevail over his closest rival, the JD(S)’ Samruddhi Manjunath, by almost 7,000 votes.

Karnataka’s Assembly elections of 2018 were squarely about the big three parties, all of whom treated it as a do-or-die battle. The combination of their grassroots reach, spending power and recognised leadership proved too high a bar for the raft of smaller players to cross. But it could equally owe to an electorate wary of experiments and looking to the established parties to provide them a stable and functioning government.

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Updated Date: May 17, 2018 21:07:21 IST

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