Triangular contest on cards

Triangular contest on cards

Anti-incumbency is yet to set in and if Siddaramaiah plays positive, he has a good chance to retain power

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.

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Relying on regional aspirations

Trajectory of regional parties

Strong regional aspirations power these parties but limiting their leadership to the founder’s family begins the rot

Continuing from yesterday, this part explores each category of regional parties. While some regional parties have the DNA of the INC, many parties follow in the footsteps of the Janata Party.

The 70s, 80s and the 90s witnessed a decline in the popularity of the Congress. During the same time, INC (Indian National Congress) also saw a rise in the control and command style of functioning. This led to many ambitious regional leaders forming their own parties. The formation of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) is the classic case as it was a result of the arrogance of the INC central leadership.

Over the years, the inability of the INC to meet the aspirations of its popular regional leaders coupled with its arrogance led to the creation of the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) and others. The local leaders who enjoyed mass following demanded that they deserved a prominent place in the political landscape and got it by establishing a successful political party.

Most of these regional political parties over the years have become strong regional political dynasties. The genesis of these political parties and the exit of these popular leaders have significantly contributed to the decline in the popularity of the INC.

DNA of Janata Party
The rise of Indira Gandhi as the undisputed leader of India also resulted in the rise of unstructured opposition in the form of Janata Party. The Janata Party movement, which enjoyed a strong mass following and trust of the voters could not manage its growth and popularity.
The biggest problem for the Janata Party was identifying a leader who could efficiently manage the pack of strong, aggressive, passionate and ambitious leaders, who enjoyed a mass following in their respective pockets. The Janata party started to disintegrate even before it reached its full potential, resulting in the rise of regional parties such as Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Samajwadi Party (SP), Janata Dal Secular (JDS), Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and Biju Janata Dal (BJD).

The emergence of these regional parties was a function of regional pride, regional caste equation and, most importantly, ambition of the regional leaders. Most of these regional parties such as RJD, RLD, SP, JDS build their base around the caste equation of the tallest leader.

Demand for Separate State
The third set of regional parties are the ones born out of movements that promoted regional culture and focused on the ethnic roots. The political leaders in Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Telangana agitated for separate States based on their unique regional, cultural, and ethnic traditions.

Over time, the politicians who were agitating for separate States formed a new regional political party. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) in Jharkhand, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in Telangana and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) in West Bengal were formed as the result of separate statehood movements. The scenario is no different in Maharashtra where the regional party Shiv Sena (SS) followed by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) emerged from a movement in Mumbai demanding preferential treatment for Maharashtrians over migrants to the city.

At times, political parties also fight for autonomy and make it the core of their existence. The National Conference (NC) and the PDP in Jammu and Kashmir are demanding greater autonomy and powers to the State of Kashmir.

Regional Pride and Development
Regional parties also fight for the recognition of cultural rights, unique identity and regional pride. Parties like Shiv Sena in Maharashtra focus on regional rights and pride and the BSP fights for the identity and development of the Dalits.

The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) is known for fighting the problem of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in Assam. These set of political parties are flag bearers of regional growth and development.

Fall from Grace
Most of the regional chieftains viz, Deve Gowda, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Parkash Singh Badal, N Chandrababu Naidu and M Karunanidhi soon after gaining power converted the regional party or the movement into a family affair. This has led to the rise of the regional political family in the last three decades.

We are also witnessing the rise of new political families in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal as the BSP supremo Mayawati is promoting her brother Anand Kumar and nephew Aakash, and Mamata Banerjee is promoting her nephew Abhishek Banerjee in the party.

This rise of political families is the biggest hindrance to the growth of the idea of regional parties. We are witnessing its adverse impact in the form of decline in the popularity of the regional political parties including the RJD, JDS and the BSP. The decline in the popularity of regional parties and a sudden rise in popularity of a national party is a function of the trust deficit in regional parties.

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Relying on regional aspirations

Relying on regional aspirations

These parties are preferred in many States as people believe their interests are better represented by one of their own.

The emergence of regional political parties in India’s political spectrum is one of the most important political developments in the post-independence era. Regional parties have had a big impact for almost three decades and are still playing a crucial role in government formation, both in Parliament and in Assemblies. It will not be off the mark to state that this is the era of co-existence of national and regional parties. This is one of the main reasons why Prime Minister Narendra Modi even after getting an absolute majority continued to take regional alliance partners along.

At present, India is governed by national parties – Indian National Congress (INC), and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — and many strong regional parties (see graph). A closer look on the co-existence of national and regional parties gives us three set of States.

Charismatic Leadership
First, there are States such as Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh which are mostly governed by the national parties – INC and BJP, and regional parties have very little or no say in these States. Second, there are States like Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Odisha and Bihar, where regional parties are stronger than the national parties. Third, in States like Jharkhand and Karnataka regional parties are not very strong and need the help of the national parties to form government.

The regional parties, irrespective of the State they come from, were formed by charismatic leaders who enjoyed unprecedented regional following and cult status. Here again, these leaders can be defined in two categories – caste-based leaders and region-based leaders. A set of these mass leaders like Deve Gowda, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati enjoy a loyal base of specific caste, religion or belief system and the other set of leaders like K Chandrashekhar Rao, Naveen Patnaik, Parkash Singh Badal, N Chandrababu Naidu and M Karunanidhi enjoy the status of flag bearer of regional pride and identity.

Most of these leaders could not grow beyond their vote bank and over the years have not reinvented themselves to gain additional votes. Leaders who enjoyed a loyal base of specific caste, religion or belief system have 20-25% of the vote share and those who are the flag bearer of regional pride mostly enjoy 30-40% of the vote share. That makes the positioning of regional pride and identity stronger than the positioning based on a specific caste, or belief system.

Rise of Regional Parties
If we evaluate the emergence of the regional parties, we observe that the big reasons for the formation of regional parties had been the resentment of the locals over the treatment received from the Central government, rise in the ambition of the regional leaders, rise in the regional pride and local issues, and resentment against the central party leadership. The rise of the regional parties is not a recent phenomenon; this trend started in the early 60s.

The first 60 years of independence saw the Congress being in power at the Centre. And during the first four decades, the central leadership was held mostly by the Gandhi-Nehru family and the States were managed by the Congress stalwarts who enjoyed mass following at the regional and State level.

The situation in the South Indian States started to change in the 60s. The politics of Tamil Nadu began witnessing a rise in discomfort with the central leadership, increase in the sentiments of regional pride and rise in the ambition of regional leaders. These factors triggered various regional movements that led to the rise of Dravidian parties.

This was the beginning of a trend, which caught on in many States and in the years that followed saw the emergence of caste and religion-based political parties, led by ambitious regional leaders with a mass following in their areas. It will not be wrong to say that most of the regional parties that emerged in the 80s and 90s actually trace their origins to national parties, either the INC or Janata Dal. The other set of regional parties were formed in search of statehood or identity.

We will explore each category of the regional parties in the second part of the piece

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Himachal Elections: Deciders in Devbhoomi

Himachal Elections: Deciders in Devbhoomi

No incumbent has returned to power in Himachal Pradesh since 1985 but Virbhadra Singh will fight hard to change it

Himachal Pradesh is known to be a peace loving and lively State. This same reflects in its politics, which is markedly different from the other States in the plains of north and central India. The rivalry between incumbent and opposition parties is not that pronounced. The political parties in the State never dwell on extreme negativity. The fight is mostly healthy and straightforward. In the not-so-politically complicated State, winning elections is primarily a function of overcoming anti-incumbency.

The next Assembly election in Himachal Pradesh is scheduled on November 9. The incumbent government of the Indian National Congress (INC) has 36 seats with 42.8% vote share and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has 27 seats with 38.5% vote share. The rest of the seats are divided among Himachal Lokhit Party (HLP) and independent candidates.

Though it is difficult to zero in on the winners now, the party that manages to win hearts of Kangra, Mandi and Shimla can form a government in the State. Among the 12 districts in the State, Kangra has the largest number of 15 Assembly constituencies while Mandi and Shimla have 10 and 8 seats respectively. Both the parties are campaigning extensively in these districts to ensure their victory.

A Straight Contest
The voters’ sentiments and vote share of the last three Assembly elections suggest that the dynamics of the Assembly election in Himachal Pradesh is very straightforward as it is one of the few States where there is a straight fight between the two largest national parties – the BJP and the INC. Since 1985, voters have been voting against the incumbent government and have never given their mandate to the same party for two consecutive terms.

If one were to go by this popular trend, the BJP is slated to come to power as the INC is ruling the State. This is also reflected in the India Today-Axis survey, which predicts a comfortable victory for the BJP in the State. According to the survey, the BJP could win back Himachal Pradesh from the Congress by winning 43-47 seats, while the Congress may trail with 21-25 seats in the 68-seat Assembly.

But if we closely analyse the data of the last three Assembly elections (see graph), there is roughly a four to five percentage points difference in the vote share of incumbent and opposition. Hence, reversing the trend is not a huge task for an incumbent government but that needs proper campaign planning and implementation.

It looks like that the current Chief Minister and face of the INC, Virbhadra Singh has plans to reverse the trend. He has planned his campaign well and is confident of leading the INC to a comfortable victory. Claiming that it is going to be a historic win for the INC, he says, “Congress will win 45 seats or even more. We will be forming the government. Our slogan is Mission Repeat 2017.” On the other hand, the BJP is also confident of its win.

Impact Issues
The key factors that will impact the elections are the face of the Chief Ministerial candidate, the role of anti-incumbency, rift within the party, and development.

Chief Ministerial Face: We are fast moving towards the era of leader-led election from party-led election. The face of the election is critical to generate momentum, give direction to the campaign, and connect to the electorate. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has already declared Virbhadra Singh as the party’s chief ministerial face.

On the contrary, the opposition BJP has yet to announce any chief ministerial face. The party once again will contest this election on the credibility of Narendra Modi. It continues to trust the arrangement that gave them landslide wins in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Anti-Incumbency: If we believe the history of Assembly elections in the State since 1985, the BJP will win this election because the voters of Himachal have voted against the incumbent government.

Moreover, the incumbent INC government led by Virbhadra Singh is on a weak wicket, especially owing to the disproportionate assets case and deteriorating law and order. The State INC is also witnessing considerable infighting between Virbhadra Singh and Himachal Congress president Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu. This has affected the party’s electoral preparedness.

There is also a belief that since the INC won the Punjab election, it will have a positive impact for the INC in the neighbouring Himachal. This could be a factor and in fact, I believe that the presence of Captain Amarinder Singh will help the INC attract additional votes and arrest the impact of anti-incumbency. But this positive impact will at best neutralise the strong anti-incumbency.

Rift within Parties: The rift in the BJP is primarily between its two prominent leaders – Prem Kumar Dhumal and JP Nadda. The fight was to be the chief ministerial candidate but it has been managed by the decision of ‘fight the elections under the name of Narendra Modi’. The differences in the BJP have been resolved or suppressed quite well.

But in the case of the INC, the rift among its top leaders – Virbhadra Singh, GS Bali, and Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu — is out in open. Party vice-president Rahul Gandhi has tried to minimise the differences by declaring Virbhadra Singh as the next chief ministerial candidate.

Development: The important question that needs to be answered is if the incumbent government has done enough to impress the voters to vote it back to power. If the voters are not impressed, the opposition’s ‘no development’ card wins.

The election season in Himachal is warming up but both the key players are yet to open all their cards. The miniscule vote difference between the winner and the loser opens possibilities for both sides, which will make it a keenly contested election.

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A keen contest in Karnataka Assembly Polls

A keen contest in Karnataka Assembly Polls

The narrow vote share gap between Congress and BJP means the tide can turn even at the very last moment.

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.

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