A hung Assembly on the horizon in Karnataka

During the last Assembly elections in Karnataka, the BJP was a splintered house and this made the task of the INC easy. In fact, the BJP in Karnataka, for long, has been struggling with leadership issues between BS Yeddyurappa and KS Eshwarappa. This has also damaged the morale of the party workers in the State.

But in recent times, the leadership issues in Karnataka have been managed very well. The BJP in Karnataka is now not just a party of BS Yeddyurappa and KS Eshwarappa. Other leaders like HN Ananth Kumar, Jagadish Shettar, DV Sadananda Gowda, R Ashoka and S Suresh Kumar have also gained prominence, thereby broadbasing the party’s leadership in the State.
Nurturing Leadership
Moreover, after the last Assembly elections, the BJP central leadership tried to resolve issues by nurturing young leaders and attracting prominent mass leaders from the INC and the JDS. The party has attracted many heavyweights like SM Krishna – one of the tallest leaders of Gowda community, Srinivas Prasad – a prominent Dalit leader, Jaya Prakash – a strong Bunt leader and Kumara Bangarappa – a popular leader of the Idiga community.

The party has also created a second rung leadership that connects it with all prominent castes in Karnataka and now has a fair representation of all prominent castes viz CT Ravi – a Vokkaliga, V Sunil Kumar – an Idiga, Shobha Karandlaje – a Bunt-Vokkaliga, and Prahlad Joshi – a Brahmin.

The party has a strong vote share in coastal Karnataka and after the joining of Bunt leader Jaya Prakash, it has only grown in strength. Similarly, it has a strong base in Bombay Karnataka and Hyderabad Karnataka and may win most of its seats there. But with the help of new leaders, the BJP must increase its vote share in south Karnataka where it has lagged behind.

If all its leaders work in tandem, the BJP can get close to forming a government. They may still need to join hands with a few independents or JDS to form a stable government.

Fading Fortress of JDS
The biggest challenge for the JDS is its positioning. The JDS is considered as a party of a single community – Vokkaligas, run by a political family. This positioning, one one hand is its biggest strength owing to its vote bank, but on the other hand, hampers its growth and stops it from emerging as a pan-Karnataka party.

While we are witnessing the rise of regional political parties across India, Karnataka is witnessing a decline in the popularity of regional parties. The JDS, the only prominent regional party in Karnataka, has reduced itself to a party of agriculture and Vokkaligas. Its core vote bank — the Vokkaligas — too seems to be shifting their loyalty as they see the rise of DK Shivakumar in the INC. Moreover, urban Karnataka believes that HD Kumaraswamy is not a very progressive leader.

It is also popularly believed that the JDS leadership is losing control over its local leadership. The same is reflected in the conduct of MLAs Zameer Ahmed Khan, Akhand Srinivasa Murthy, Balakrishna, Chaluvarayaswamy, Bheema Naik, Iqbal Ansari and Ramesh Bandisiddegowda, who voted against the party guidelines during the last Rajya Sabha elections. These rebel MLAs have decided to shift to the INC. The rebel leaders have raised issues related to the growing perception of it being a family run party and its leadership. Amid all these controversies, the party has lost a good number of mass leaders and voters’ trust.

But this is not the first time that the JDS is facing such challenges. In the past, the core vote bank of the party had backed former Prime Minister Deve Gowda despite odds. The leadership of Deve Gowda has been the biggest strength of the party. I am sure that in the ensuing election too, with the help of his loyal followers, he will manage to retain most of the current Assembly seats.

The JDS enjoys a strong vote share in Mandya, Mysuru and in the Hyderabad Karnataka region but has little or no presence beyond these regions. Though the party has scope to do well under the guidance of Deve Gowda, it is not innovative and aggressive enough. It is reluctant to explore new equations to win additional vote bank.

The Next Election
The next election is going to be an intense triangular fight among the INC, BJP, and the JDS. A pre-poll alliance is mostly a big no for all political parties but a post-poll alliance may be an option.

If one were to go by the popular sentiments, we are likely to witness a hung Assembly and JDS and INC will join hands to form the government. But politics makes strange bedfellows and I believe that it will be BJP-JDU government and not an INC-JDU if there is a hung Assembly.
An arrangement between the BJP and JDS sounds impossible as we all believe that BS Yediyurappa must not have forgotten the betrayal of HD Kumaraswamy. But we must understand that Deve Gowda and Kumaraswamy are seasoned politicians and they would align the political equation to their benefit. The BJP central team will also not let go of the opportunity and find out a win-win for both Kumaraswamy and Yediyurappa.

Most importantly, it will be advantage JDS if they join BJP in case of a hung Assembly. The BJP-JDS combination will be a win-win alliance for municipality, State government, as well as for the Centre.



Triangular contest on cards in Karnataka

The Indian National Congress (INC) is one of the strongest political parties in Karnataka. It has managed to retain 35% vote share in the State during the last three Assembly elections.

Moreover, the spread of this vote share is almost uniform across the State unlike the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Janata Dal Secular (JDS), which have pockets of strong vote banks.

The regional party, JDS, has held on to its 18-20% vote bank for the last three Assembly elections. The BJP has been adding voters to its fold during the last two decades, and in the last two elections, its vote share hovered around 30%.

Karnataka is one of the unique States where all three parties have strong vote banks and mostly these loyal voters don’t shift sides. This is reflected in the vote share of these political parties over the last two decades.

In the ensuing Assembly election, it is likely that we will witness a very interesting fight among the three key political parties of Karnataka – INC, BJP, and JDS. To understand the emerging electoral situation, let us explore the current state of all the three parties.
Stronghold of INC
If I were to go by the popular belief that there is a growing voice of anti-incumbency in Karnataka, I would have to pronounce the fall of INC in Karnataka. But I would not buy the argument blindly that INC has failed to retain its popularity in Karnataka, and people are waiting for elections to teach them a lesson. Yes, there is a murmur of anti-incumbency in a few pockets.

The sentiment of anti-incumbency in a few pockets is very normal for any incumbent government. But the anti-incumbency is not uniform across Karnataka and there are pockets where voters are happy with the work of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah. So, it will be wrong to classify the current situation as strong anti-incumbency.

This anti-incumbency can be neutralised with the help of a few positive moves and that is what Siddaramaiah has been doing lately. He has mostly neutralised the mood of anti-incumbency with the help of pro-poor policies, stand on Hindi imposition, positive moves towards the Karnataka Flag issue among others. These moves in recent times have helped the Chief Minister establish himself as one of the tallest mass leaders in the State.

Mass Leaders
In Karnataka, the INC has many other strong leaders like DK Shivakumar, G Parameshwara, KH Muniyappa and SN Patil. The collective might of these mass leaders can help it win the desired vote share.

Moreover, in recent times the INC has played the caste equation very well. It has strong representation from all influential castes in the State. For instance, Siddaramaiah is the tallest leader from the Kuruba community, DK Shivakumar has emerged as the strongest leader of Vokkaligas, G Parameshwara and KH Muniyappa are strong Dalit leaders, SN Patil represents the dominant Lingayat community and Jarkiholi brothers have a huge following among tribals. It will only be right to say that no other political party has such well-defined representation.

The JDS is mostly perceived as a party of the Vokkaligas and the BJP as a party of the Lingayats. The INC enjoys the strong backing of Muslims, Kurubas and Dalits, but it is perceived as a party of all castes and religions.

This is why unlike the BJP and JDS, the INC enjoys a uniform vote share across all Assembly constituencies. The INC is a strong player in all the 242 Assembly constituencies. Its candidates have been the winner or a close second in almost all the Assembly seats.

Rise of BJP
In the last Assembly election in Karnataka, the BJP was a divided house. The vote share was split between – BJP, KJP of Yeddyurappa and BSRCP of Bellary Sriramulu. Now that all three parties are back as one united party, the BJP vote share increased to 32% in the Assembly election of 2013. The united BJP also managed to get 43.4% vote share in the 2014 parliamentary election as against 41.2% vote share in the previous elections.

In the ensuing election, which the BJP will contest as a united, cohesive party, it is expected to pose a much stiffer challenge to the INC.



A keen contest in Karnataka Assembly Polls

The Karnataka Assembly elections, scheduled in April-May 2018, are critical for the Indian National Congress (INC), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the State’s largest regional party – Janata Dal – Secular (JDS).

The ruling party, the INC, would like to retain its largest ruling State. A win for the INC is also important as it has recently lost four States – Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur, and Goa, and now rules only a few States. The JDS would fight with all its might just to remain relevant in Karnataka politics. The party would make every attempt to increase its vote share, even though it may not emerge as the largest party.

The BJP will like to win the Assembly election for many reasons – the win will be seen as their re-entry into south India; this will be seen as one of the largest milestones in their ‘Çongress-Mukt’ campaign; and it will be a big morale booster for the 2019 parliamentary elections.
Vote Share
Let us analyse the last two Assembly and parliamentary election results in Karnataka. Though the voting pattern in the Assembly and parliamentary elections are different, the trends suggest the mood of the voters.

All the parties, both national and regional, will experiment with all possible tricks to win most votes. The JDS has been hovering around 20% vote share for the last three Assembly elections. In the 2008 and 2014 Assembly elections, the JDS got 19% and 20.2% votes respectively. The party enjoys a very strong loyal voter base in certain parts of the State, which has helped it remain relevant in Karnataka politics.

But the numbers of last two Assembly and parliamentary elections suggest that the real battle has been between the two national parties – INC and BJP. The gap in the vote share of the INC and BJP in recent elections has been very close. The INC in the 2008 and 2014 Assembly elections got 34.8% and 36.6% votes. The BJP during the same period got 33.9% and 32.4% votes. The number suggests that the difference in the vote share is not very high.

It is also important to analyse the vote share dynamics of the parliamentary election, which is very different from that of the Assembly elections. In the 2009 and 2014 parliamentary elections, the JDS managed to get 11.1% and 13.6% votes. This shows a deviation of roughly eight percentage points in the parliamentary and Assembly elections. This was mostly added to the vote share of the INC and the BJP.

In the 2009 and 2014 parliamentary elections, the INC got 37.6% and 41.2% votes, which is roughly a 4 percentage points gain in the vote share from the Assembly elections. In the same elections, the BJP got 41.6% and 43.4% votes — roughly an 8 percentage points gain in the vote share from the Assembly elections. So, the BJP has been more effective in the parliamentary elections.

Floating Voters Key
It is very clear from the numbers of the last two Assembly and parliamentary elections that the real fight in Karnataka has been between the national parties – INC and BJP. The JDS has been playing an effective role of kingmaker or a spoiler.

The numbers also suggest that the BJP and the INC have been winning the fence or last-minute voters. These last-minute voters have been deciding the fate of the elections in Karnataka. The same last-minute voters would decide the fate of the Assembly elections in 2018.

Recent Opinion Polls
It is also important to explore the numbers of the recent opinion poll results. In recent times, the two separate agencies – Creative Center for Political and Social Studies (COPS) and C-Fore have conducted surveys, which have thrown two different set of results.

The COPS has given the INC 86 seats, BJP 113 seats and the JDS 25 seats. It predicts that the INC would win a majority of the seats in Old Mysuru and Bangalore region and the BJP will make a clean sweep in Coastal Karnataka, Mumbai-Karnataka and Hyderabad-Karnataka regions. However, in Central Karnataka, both the INC and the BJP could win an equal number of seats.

The C-Fore survey has predicted 120-132 seats for the INC and 60-72 seats for the BJP in the 2018 elections. The survey has also predicted that the INC may win 43% vote share, the BJP 32% and the JDS may win 17%.

Indicative Trends
Obviously, these survey results are not final and are indicative trends. It just helps us understand the current state of affairs and the overall mood of the people in the State.
It is a good idea to take the average of both the surveys to understand the trend and if we take the average of both the surveys, all we will get is a hung Assembly. Moreover, both the surveys also suggest that the JDS is losing ground.

It is too premature to start predicting the results of the Karnataka Assembly elections. The political parties have another seven-eight months to change the mind of the voters and influence them to vote for their candidates and party. As of now, one thing is clear that the ensuing Karnataka election will be won or lost by winning or losing the last-minute voters. This election will be won by the party, which influences them best.