Prime Minister Modi started his campaign trail for Karnataka on 1st of May in a bid to give a last minute push to BJP’s fortunes. Opinion polls are predicting a hung assembly with Congress as the single largest party. Regional satrap Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular) is likely to emerge as a kingmaker as per surveys, after being out of power for a decade. We have seen opinion polls going wrong in Uttar Pradesh in a similar setting where there was no wave in favour of any party on the ground. For Congress, it’s a must win battle. A loss here would reduce party to power in states which account for less than 2.5% of country’s population and give a fillip to BJP’s ‘Congress mukt Bharat’ campaign. A win will rejuvenate the party cadre for bigger battles in three state elections due at the end of the year and central elections due next year.
The battle in Karnataka is being fiercely contested on five fronts and whichever party manages to win maximum of these is likely to form the government.
- The Hindutava Battle (Majority vs Minority)
BJP has been working for years to create a unified Hindu vote bank. BJP which was referred to as a party of Brahmins and Banias has extended its anchor voting segments. With the disintegration of the Janata Dal nationally and the fact that Modi himself is an OBC, party has managed to attract a sizeable chunk of OBC votes (34% in 2014, up from 21% in 2009). With the weakening of BSP, party received a good number of Dalit votes as well across India (24% in 2014, double of 2009 support). It has also emerged as the first choice of tribals ahead of Congress (38% in 2014, up from 24% in 2009).
Party strategists believe that the nurturing of the unified Hindu vote cutting across caste lines would make it invincible. According to a Yale study, polarization helps BJP electorally. Hindus account for 84% and minorities (Muslims and Christians) 16% of population in Karnataka. BJP is accusing Congress of indulging in minority appeasement politics citing Tipu Sultan Jayanti celebrations and Sidaramaiah’s proposal of withdrawing communal cases against minorities. While BJP is attempting to consolidate the Hindu voters, Congress, is blaming BJP for playing the communal card and disturbing the peace and harmony in the state.
- The Social Engineering Battle (LIBRA vs AHINDA)
Caste plays an important role in polls across India. 2/3rd respondents in ADR survey for Karnataka stated that they would consider candidate’s caste or religion while voting. Each party is trying to create the perfect caste mix in each seat. BJP has traditionally banked on LIBRA (Lingayats plus Brahmins) and JDS on Vokkaligas. Congress under Siddaramaiah created the AHINDA formula to come back to power in 2013.
The traditional voting segments of BJP and Congress are not enough to cross the half way mark this time and hence they are trying to make a dent into vote bank of each other.
- BJP is trying to create a social coalition of Lingayats, Brahmins, non Kuruba OBCs and poach a section of Dalits from Congress, Vokkaligas from JDS.
- Congress is trying to create a social umbrella of Dalits, STs, Muslims, Kurubas and Christians while poaching a section of Lingayat voters from BJP and Vokkaligas from JDS.
- JDS doesn’t have any anchor vote segment apart from Vokkaligas. The quantum of support is also not like Lingayats for BJP and Muslims for Congress. Both BJP and Congress are eyeing this vote bank.
With decision to grant separate religion status to Lingayats, Congress is trying to divide BJP’s core vote bank. It needs to be seen how much this will impact voting. Congress is also reminding voters that BJP represents manuvadi forces and has no place for backward classes and dalits. Some caste groups are antagonistic towards each other like Dalits and Upper castes, Dalits and Vokkaligas. This also disturbs the social engineering dynamics of parties.
- The Aspirations Battle (Urban 38.7% vs Rural 61.3%)
While Karnataka is known for its IT Parks in Bengaluru, majority of the state still lives in rural areas. The state has 72 urban and semi urban seats, 152 rural seats. 40% of the urban seats are in Bengaluru itself. Other urban seats are in Mysore, Mangalore, Hubli etc. In 2008 BJP won 17, in 2013 Congress won 13 seats in Bengaluru. Nationally urban voters have been flocking to BJP. BJP could save Gujarat only because it won majority of the urban seats. It has been observed that the gap between the BJP and Congress is less in rural areas.
The need and aspirations of people living in urban and rural areas are different. The rural populace is still grappling with issues of basic amenities. Drinking water, sanitation, drainage are big issues in rural areas. The focus of the urban voter is more on infrastructure build up, quality of life, open spaces for kids etc. Congress is trying to gain advantage of discontent among youth on jobs and middle class on fuel prices. The loss in two urban seats in Alwar and Ajmer in by-polls is a testimony to this fact. If turnout is low in urban seats like in Phulpur, there could be a problem for BJP.
- The Leadership Battle (Sid vs Yeddy; Sid + RG vs Yeddy + NaMo)
Elections are increasingly becoming Presidential style in India. The party whose leadership enjoy highest ratings normally goes on to win the elections. We have seen this in Punjab, Delhi, Bihar, Gujarat and many other states. The leadership battle is on two fronts, state wide as well as nationwide. While Siddaramaiah is leading Yeddyurappa in race for who is best suited to be Chief Minister, Modi leads Rahul by several points nationally.
Siddaramaiah plus Rahul ratings are lower than Modi plus Yeddyurappa ratings. Modi has high approval ratings of 54% versus 51% for Siddaramaiah. The old age and fragile health of Yeddyurappa and rumours that he might be removed soon after his coronation puts a doubt in minds of Lingayat supporters of BJP. There is another interesting angle similar to Uttar Pradesh the combined ratings of Yeddyurappa and Kumaraswamy are higher than Siddaramaiah, indicating a hung assembly situation.
- The Peasants vs Landlords Battle
This election is also about the continued dominance of Lingayats and Vokkaligas in state politics. These two communities have a higher representation in assembly (almost double) compared to their population. The landlords are mostly Vokkaligas and Lingayats while agricultural workers are largely tribals and dalits. Agriculture supports 13.74 million workers and employs greater than 60% of workforce of the state. The two groups share a history of animosity; peasants have been exploited at the hands of landlords for years. Devraj Urs ex Congress CM introduced a series of radical land reforms to reduce the socio-political and economic influence of landlords in rural areas. Majority of the landlords have voted for the BJP and the JDS while peasants have supported the Congress in the last few elections. The landlords have influence over 105 seats in the state.
To sum up, the party which is able to win most of these battles and manages the contradictions among the broad social coalition it is attempting to form will emerge victorious. A cracker of an elections is on the cards! Expect the unexpected!
This article was first published in TheQuint.