Karnataka Political Scene
This article originally appeared in centreright.in. CRI content has now been subsumed in swarajyamag.com. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of swarajyamag.com

Politics is always fascinating to those who follow it closely. After all underneath politics lie People and their emotions. And as such it is always extremely difficult to fathom what is going on. The addicted keep scraping for bits of information, guessing, outguessing, predicting and often taking sides too! In this context Karnataka is quite an interesting state. Its size, economically disparate regions, long history of Congress domination (after all Indira Gandhi counted on the state to stage her come back), and above all the fact that it enabled the first BJP government in the South make it a heady cocktail for the politically addicted. As Offstumped wrote in his piece in Niticentral the recently concluded elections to the Urban Local Bodies in Karnataka have shown up the fragmentation of the polity. Friends of this site like Albatrossinflight and Chinmay have tweeted quite a lot on the subject. It will be interesting to take stock and project what could happen! Let us first see the dynamics from the perspectives and priorities of the main players.

  • Congress: Congress has been effectively the default party of governance in this state (for that matter in many states!). From available indications its vote bank consisting of religious minorities, SC, and BC seems to be intact. This (intact) social base makes it the largest political party in the state. It is also the only party which has statewide strength. Two points are however against it: 1) High levels of factionalism 2) Groups that were part of its social base have drifted away (as in most states). In terms of vote share, from the high 40s in the years 1960s and 1970s it is now in the mid 30s.
  • BJP: Has been increasing its strength over the years. It is important to note that this increase in strength has not been sufficient to rule in stability. This relative weakness actually mirrors Congress’ strengths – a) total share of support is lesser and b) the party is not strong across all the regions of the state. The seats won in 2008 are actually not proportionate to its strength on ground. Despite polling 1 % less of the total votes (33.9 % vs. 34.8), the party got over 35% more seats (110 vs. 80) compared to the Congress. Two developments since then to its vote base can be said: 1) It is split with KJP and 2) the attempts of Yeddyurappa to poach Congress’ Dalit vote base were still born and this section may have reverted to the Congress
  • Janata Dal Secular: Overall assessment is that its vote base is still intact. However the results of the recent ULB elections should cause concern. Still it can be safely hypothesised that with all the guile its leaders are credited with, the party will appropriately strategise to rally the base. While strong in the southern districts, its base in the north is not strong enough to win seats in good numbers.
  • Karnataka Janata Party: As of now the party’s base consists of a splintered vote base from BJP’s. To the extent this is concentrated it can translate this base into seats. However the critical question will be how much of the Lingayat vote can it carry? For example if the likely CM from Congress will be Mallikharjuna Kharge, will the Lingayats vote against the BJP in large numbers and make it weaker, ensuring that outcome?

Priorities of the different parties:

  • Congress: It will seek to form a government on its own. It will want the KJP to split BJP votes in the northern districts, and the BJP to split JDS votes in the south. It can run a negative campaign on corruption and instability in Bangalore City to get the ‘anti BJP’ vote out. If all these work out it should certainly get a comfortable majority.
  • BJP: It will be quite difficult for the BJP to win power this round. Given its on-ground strengths, even 2008 was an aberration. The party has become only weaker since. Unless it somehow dramatically conjures up a wave, its focus will be 1) to salvage as much of its vote base and 2) to ensure that Congress does not get a clear majority to govern on its own. It might try to rally its support base pointing out that a vote for KJP could effectively place Congress in power. It will also seek to maximise seat gains by attempting good candidate selection especially in Bangalore City. Subsequently it will target to better its performance in the LS election, and rework the support base.
  • JDS: It will be quite difficult for JDS to spend another five years out of power, and not be the main opposition. Particularly if Congress is in power with a clear majority it will have the ability to poach JDS’ support base and make it less and less relevant in the future. Its two ideal scenarios will be to 1) emerge as the principal opposition party ahead of the BJP, or 2) to be in the Government with the Congress, as the junior partner. It might need to have a covert alliance with BJP where the latter’s votes are transferred in the South in exchange for vote transfers in the north, to ensure the latter.
  • KJP: Contrary to what Yeddyurappa might claim, the party may be a big loser. It will certainly fulfil its leader’s objective of denting BJP’s vote base and seats, but such an objective has little political value for its constituents or supporters. In case the Congress gets a majority on its own KJP’s contributions to the success will count for little. Its best scenario will be that Congress wins but not a majority and becomes dependent on KJP. This will enable Yeddyurappa to wield power in the dispensation and further splinter BJP’s vote base. On the other hand if it does not happen, and the BJP emerges as the principal opposition, KJP may well see desertion, depletion and eventually death. The party will need to have some understanding with the Congress to maximise its seats. But in reality this is easier said than done. If it puts up strong candidates to defeat the BJP, it will not be able to transfer votes to the Congress. If it does not, it will need to transfer its votes to the Congress which will end up strengthening the latter. An open alliance on the other hand will result in exhorting its Lingayat supporters to vote for a result that will most certainly mean a non Lingayat CM.

Fascinating possibilities! The space certainly needs watching!