After the UP and Bihar by-polls, where BJP suffered a few setbacks, realpolitik now moves to the elections in Karnataka. These elections will set the tone for elections to three states – Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh – slated to be held at the end of the year and the Lok Sabha elections to be held in Q1-Q2 2019. The triangular contest between Congress, BJP and JD(S) is being keenly watched. BJP was leading in 132 assembly segments in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, comfortable majority out of 224 seats. Congress was leading in 77 and JDS in 15.

While Congress is again relying on AHINDA (Dalits, Backward Classes, Kurubas & Muslims) to bail out the party, BJP is banking on LIBRA and JDS on Vokkaligas. Opinion polls predict a close contest, but slowly and steadily BJP is marching ahead in the campaign and its chances have brightened.

Ten factors suggesting BJP is ahead in Karnataka

  1. Strong trend of people of Karnataka voting out incumbent governments

The people of the state have exhibited a history of throwing out the ruling party. Since 1985, the state has never re-elected the incumbent party. Power changes hands at the end of every five years in Karnataka like many states in southern part of India. No chief minister has returned to power in Karnataka since Ramakrishna Hegde in 1985. From 1985 to 1999 the power oscillated between Janata Dal constituents and Congress party. The trend was broken in 2004 when people gave a hung verdict. Congress managed to retain Chief Minister’s chair with support of JD(S). In 2008 BJP won the state for the first time, lost out to Congress in 2013.

  1. The Modi-factor is very strong in Karnataka (42%) vs All India (27%) in Lok Sabha Polls 2014

Prime Minister Modi is very popular in Karnataka. The strong crowds thronging to listen to his speech is testimony to this fact. I was on a vacation to Coorg last Diwali and my driver addressed Modi as a ‘tiger – protector of Hinduatava’, when we passed across one of the billboards. 42% supporters of BJP in the state would not have voted for the party in 2014 Lok Sabha elections had Modi not been named the PM candidate as per a CSDS post poll survey. This is one and half times of his all India average leadership ratings.

  1. BJP’s good form where it managed to form governments in 9 out of 10 states in last one year

The momentum is with the BJP. In the last one year, elections have been held in ten states, BJP with its allies have managed to form government in all states barring Punjab. In seven of the states it defeated the incumbent government in power. Even in minority dominated states of North East, BJP has created history by uprooting the 25 year old Left government in Tripura. When state after state people are voting for BJP, people of Karnataka would not like to be the odd man out.

  1. Hollow claims on performing better than BJP governments

CRISIL has ranked 16 big states of India on three parameters of growth, inflation and fiscal position from fiscal 2013 and 2017. While Siddaramaiah boasts he has performed well than BJP ruled governments, CRISIL research shows state at 6th rank. Ahead of it are all BJP ruled states of Gujarat, MH, MP, CG and Haryana.

Price rise is one of the biggest issues in elections across India. The inflation in Karnataka in the last five years has been the highest among the big states at 7.7% versus all India figure of 6.8%. The BJP ruled states ahead of Karnataka above have been successful in reining prices below the national average level except for CG.

  1. Agri-distress, 3500 odd farmer suicides in last 5 years

3,515 farmers committed suicide in the state from April 2013 to Nov. 2017, this is three times the number under BJP rule of April 2008 to April 2012. The state is ranked 3rd in suicides in India. The situation has worsened due to the severe drought situation in the state, 3 consecutive droughts of 2014, 2015 and 2016. 50% of the state work force is engaged in agriculture. Congress government has announced a loan waiver for 22 lakh small and marginal farmers and announced sops in the budget, but that’s not enough. The simmering discontent among the farmers for not handling drought situation in a comprehensive manner and failure to adequately compensate them, could work against Siddaramaiah big time.

  1. Deteriorating law and order in the state, mainly Bengaluru

The rate of crime (IPC) in Karnataka has increased from 224.7 per lakh of population in 2013 to 237.2 in 2016. Karnataka’s share in total crime in the country has remained at 5% levels. However, increase in crime in Bengaluru is a big concern. City has overtaken Mumbai to take the second position among metropolitan cities in 2016. Crime in city has increased by 28% in 2016 vs 2015. The day light murder of Gauri Lankesh and attack on Lokayukta chief are recent examples of the precarious situation.  Law and order is a big issue in all elections across India.

  1. Congress strategy of making elections Presidential style & attacking Modi

Congress has changed its strategy from localization in Gujarat to Presidential style in Karnataka. Effort is to keep issues at the state level, project good work of Siddaramaiah government. Rahul began his campaign in Ballary attacking Modi and BJP at national level. Siddaramaiah is also increasingly attacking BJP central policies – jobs, Nirav Modi scam etc. This shows he doesn’t have much to show in terms of work and development. This strategy entails a risk of pitting Rahul vs Modi and will help BJP.

  1. Return of Yeddyurappa and the LIBRA factor

Yeddyurappa is back with BJP after forming KJP and contesting independently in 2013. His party recorded 9.8% vote share and was largely responsible for BJP’s drubbing, down from 110 to 40 seats. Lingayats accounting for 17% of state population along with Brahmins (3%) are the anchor voting segments of BJP.  They are one of the most dominant and politically relevant communities in Karnataka having their influence in North Karnataka, Hyderabad Karnataka and Old Mumbai region. Karnataka till date has had the highest number of chief ministers, seven from the Lingayat community. With Yeddyurappa as CM candidate, the block is expected to solidly back BJP. In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, 60%+ voted for BJP, giving it a head start with 12%-15% vote share.  Siddaramaiah attempt to divide the Lingayat vote is not working on the ground.

  1. Consolidation of Hindu votes against appeasement politics of Siddaramaiah

Siddaramaiah is trying to consolidate the Muslim vote by announcements such as withdrawal of communal violence cases. He fears some votes do not slip away to JDS. Muslims account for 13% of state population and have a hold on 60 odd seats. To Dalits and backward classes he has been giving the reservation lollypop of increasing limit to 70%. By consolidating the minorities, dalits and backward classes he hopes to retain the state. But he forgets that this old style of politics doesn’t work in the new era of ‘unified Hindu vote’ which has emerged since 2014 Lok Sabha polls and was visible in UP and other state elections. This excessive wooing will only lead to polarization of the Hindu votes in favour of BJP.

  1. BJP has emerged as the 2nd preference party of Vokkaligas

Vokkaligas (12%-15% of population) are the dominant peasant caste of Old Mysuru and have traditionally backed Deve Gowda’s JD(S). Vokkaligas are the dominant political class of Karnataka along with Lingayats.  Excessive wooing of minorities and backward politics played by the Congress government shows that they would not side with the Congress. The caste census which allegedly portrays their ratios falling below the 12% mark have angered the community against Siddaramaiah. In seats where JDS is weak and not in a position to win (130 odd seats), the community is expected to back the BJP.  This means additional 3%-5% vote share for BJP from Vokkaligas.

To conclude, BJP is inching ahead in Karnataka, backed by strong support of LIBRA, popularity of Modi and anti-incumbency against the Siddaramaiah government. After 2014 Lok Sabha elections, 20 states have gone to polls, wherein 14 incumbent governments have lost elections (70%).

This article was first published in Swarajya. 

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