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Karnataka: The Lotus Blooms...Nearly

The Bharatiya Janata Party pulled off an impressive win in Karnataka in the May 2008 election though in the initial outcome it was two short of a majority in the assembly. The party was helped to its first triumph in south India by nonstop squabbling in the Congress among its many leaders and an erosion in the support base of the Janata Dal (Secular).

STATE ELECTIONS 2007-08february 7, 2009 EPW Economic & Political Weekly42Karnataka: The Lotus Blooms... NearlySandeep Shastri, B S PadmavathiThe Bharatiya Janata Party pulled off an impressive win in Karnataka in the May 2008 election though in the initial outcome it was two short of a majority in the assembly. The party was helped to its first triumph in south India by non-stop squabbling in the Congress among its many leaders and an erosion in the support base of the Janata Dal (Secular). The long summer of 2008 saw a fierce electoral contest in Karna-taka, which paved the way for the formation of the first “full fledged” Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in south India. While the BJP did have a chief minister in the state in 2007, he pre-sided over an extremely short-lived gov-ernment that had to resign before it could prove its majority in the assembly because its coalition partner, the Janata Dal (Secu-lar), withdrew its support. The BJP’s victory celebrations this time were slightly muted as the party fell short of the half-way mark by two seats (winning 110 seats in the 224-member House), requiring the support of independent legislators to mus-ter a majority and form the government. The Congress emerged as the largest opposition party, winning 80 seats, and the Janata Dal (S) secured 28 (Table 1). Independents notched up victories in six constituencies. A variety of factors contributed to the re-sult. The BJP nearly won a majority1 because it performed spectacularly well in some regions of the state. At the same time, it fell short of a majority because it performed poorly in certain other important regions. Karnataka was the first state to go to the polls after the current round of delimita-tion. The impact of delimitation was clearly seen in the result. The increase in the number of urban constituencies appeared to work in favour of the BJP. Finally, the va-garies of the first-past-the-post election sys-tem were writ large in the election result. It would be useful to record the political developments that necessitated an early poll in the state. In the 1999 and 2004 elections, the voters of Karnataka simulta-neously chose their MLAs and MPs. In 1999, the voters gave a clear mandate to the Congress (Shastri 1999). The 2004 elections threw up a result in which no single party had a majority (Shastri and Ramaswamy 2004). What followed was a period of uncertainty and political in-trigue with the Congress and the Janata Dal (S) coming together at first, only to be replaced by the Janata Dal (S) and the BJP. When the Janata Dal (S) refused to hon-our a commitment to support BJP candi-date for chief ministership, the possibili-ties of forming a government were exhausted and a mid-term election be-came necessary. In the process, the Janata Dal (S) split and the BJP got an opportuni-ty to generate sympathy for itself. The State of the Nation Surveys2 (SONS) con-ducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi, during the Janata Dal (S)-BJP combine’s time in power indicated that the voters in Karnataka were appreciative of Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy’s approach. In a post-poll survey3 conducted by the CSDS, more than one-fourth of the res-pondents were fully satisfied with the per-formance of the government and nearly half were satisfied with the Janata Dal (S)-BJP government. Barely 12% recorded any dissatisfaction. These political developments provided the backdrop to the 2008 assembly elec-tion. The state saw an intense campaign in the run up to the elections with the three major players, the Congress, the BJP and the Janata Dal (S), deciding to go it alone. The Congress hoped to benefit from the recent coalition convulsions and felt that the voters would favour a single-party government (Manor 2008). It saw itself as the “natural” choice. The BJP hoped to cash in on “sympathy” for having been denied its “rightful” share of power by its coalition partner. The Janata Dal (S) hoped to reap the benefits of the goodwill earned by its leader and former chief min-ister Kumaraswamy. It hoped that the state would once again have a hung assembly, catapulting it into the role of a kingmaker. What were the factors that contributed to the BJP’s success? If electoral politics in Sandeep Shastri ( and B S Padmavathi ( are at the International Academy for Creative Teaching, Bangalore.Table 1: Karnataka Assembly Election 2008 and 2004: Votes Polled and Seats Won by Parties 20082004 Seats Won Votes Polled Seats Won Votes Polled BJP 110 33.86 79 28.33Congress 80 34.59 65 35.27JD(S) 2819.115820.77Others 6 12.44 22 15.63Total 224 100 224 100
STATE ELECTIONS 2007-08Economic & Political Weekly EPW february 7, 200943the country has moved from the national to the state in the last decade, in Karna-taka, this period has witnessed the rise of different regions as distinct political enti-ties. This was clearly reflected in the out-come as shown in Table 2. The election was won (and lost) in the different regions of the state. The BJP had made its presence felt in the Mumbai-Karnataka and coastal Karnataka regions in previous elections (Shastri and Ramaswamy 2004). This time around it consolidated its position in these two regions. In the Mumbai-Karna-taka region, where the Lingayat commu-nity has a significant presence, the party recorded its best performance, winning nearly three-fourths of the seats (36 of 50). In coastal Karnataka, theBJP faced stiff competition from the Congress and it was a straight fight between the two parties in most constituencies. A communally sensi-tive region, there was political polarisa-tion on religious lines here. Many BJP can-didates had been sitting MLAs for more than two terms and faced the threat of anti-incumbency. The party also had to deal with powerful rebel candidates in a few constituencies. However, it managed to win a majority of the seats in the region (12 of 21) and this was crucial in its bid to become the ruling party in the state. In the central Karnataka region, the BJP did exceptionally well. The party had been doing well in pockets of the area and it stamped its presence across the region this time. Its chief ministerial candidate, B S Yeddyurappa, was in the fray from his constituency in this region. By winning 25 of the 35 seats at stake in central Karnataka, theBJP was able to wrest the advantage. With the new delimitation, the Bangalore region (urban and rural) accounted for 36 seats – more than 15% of the assembly. TheBJP was able to win a majority of seats in this region too. That the BJP was not able to cross the half-way mark had a lot to do with its performance in the southern Karnataka region and the Hyderabad-Karnataka belt. Southern Karnataka, the core of the old Mysore region, accounts for more than 20% of the seats in the state. The region has historically witnessed con-tests between the Congress and the Janata Dal (S) with the BJP being a peripheral player. In this election, the Congress bagged a majority of the seats in the regionwhile the Janata Dal (S) won 30% (14 of 51).TheBJP man-aged to win only seven seats. The Hyderabad-Karnataka re-gion was yet another area the BJP hoped to do well. But it was able to win only a third of the seats with the Congress winning close to a majority and the Janata Dal (S) bagging five. What has been the impact of the new delimitation of constituencies? One clear effect was the increased weightage that urban areas enjoyed. If the pattern of victories in urban areas (constituencies in both Bangalore city and district head-quarters) is analysed, it is seen that the BJP performed exceptionally well in them. There are 26 constituencies in Bangalore city and 30 urban constituencies in the rest of the state. In Bangalore city, the BJP won 15 of the 26 seats, with the Con-gress bagging 10 and the Janata Dal (S) one. In the 30 other urban constituen-cies, the BJP won in 19, the Congress in six, the Janata Dal (S) in four and an in-dependent in one.Overall, theBJP won over 60% of the seats in urban areas. It needs to be stressed that of the 22 seats won by the Congress, the Janata Dal (S) and independents in urban areas, eight of the victors were from minority communities – six Muslims and two Christians. The Muslim candidates won from areas that have traditionally voted for the minority community.If the electoral strategies adopted by the different parties are analysed, one notices that theBJP had a head start for two rea-sons. It decided its candidates relatively early and was the first among the major three to announce its lists. While there was some dissent in the party, it was dealt with amicably in most cases. The Congress and the Janata Dal (S) delayed announc-ing their lists, resulting in confusion and intense infighting. The Congress was not even able to field a candidate from one constituency because of last-minute glitches. The campaign strategies of the major parties were also significantly dif-ferent. In spite of internal differences, the state-level BJP leadership put up a united front and projected Yedyurappa as its can-didate for the chief minister. While the BJP played up the “betrayal” card, it soon realised its limitations because its princi-pal adversary was the Congress, not the Janata Dal (S) which had “betrayed” it. It decided to capitalise on the fact that un-like the Congress, it had a clear candidate for chief minister. It also attempted to project some of the achievements of its ministers in the Janata Dal (S)-BJP gov-ernment and took credit for much of the goodwill that the government enjoyed. The Congress campaign lacked unity and focus. Each leader appeared to be pulling in a different direction, concen-trating on his limited area of influence. S M Krishna had returned to state politics but was not contesting the election; Mallikarjun Kharge, a dalit, headed the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC); former chief minister Dharam Singh was in the campaign having been the leader of the oppositionintheassem-bly; H K Patil, who was the leader of the opposition in the council, decidedtotry his luck in the election and entered the Table 2: Karnataka Assembly Election 2008: Regionwise Seats Won by Parties Number of Seats BJP Congress JDS Independents Hyderabad –Karnataka 31 11 (36) 14 (45) 5 (16) 1(3)Bombay-Karnataka 5036(72)12(24)2(4) 0Central Karnataka 35 25(71) 7(20) 1(3) 2(6)Coastal Karnataka 21 12(57) 7(33) 2(10) 0Bangalore 36 19(53) 14(39) 3(8) 0South Karnataka 51 7(14) 26(51) 15(29) 3(6)Total 224 110 80 28 6(Figures in parentheses refer to percentage of seats won from that region).Table 3: Karnataka Assembly Election 2008: Percentageof Votes Polled by Winning Candidates and Victory Margins BJPCongressJD(S)IndependentsTotal Winner secured more than 50% of valid votes polled 80 67 22 5 174Winner secured less than 50% of valid votes polled 30 13 6 1 50Victory margin less than 500 votes 2 2 1 0 5 Victory margin in 501 to 3,000 votes range 16 17 2 2 37Victory margin in 3,001 to 5,000 votes range 10 10 2 0 22Victory margin in 5,001 to 10,000 votes range 26 19 6 0 51Victory margin in 10,001 to 20,000 votes range 32 22 10 3 67Victory margin more than 20,000 votes 24 10 7 1 42
STATE ELECTIONS 2007-08february 7, 2009 EPW Economic & Political Weekly44fray; and stalwarts like Siddaramaiah and M P Prakash, both former deputy chief ministers who had migrated to the Con-gress from the Janata Dal (S), were also involved in the campaign. The list of vet-eran leaders went on and on. There were more than 20 chief ministerial hopefuls who did not hide that they were in the leadership race and would be happy to take on the responsibility if the high command so desired. This cost the Congress dearly. In the post-poll survey, the respondents were asked who they would have liked to see as the chief minister. While 30% pre-ferred Yedyurappa, 20% supported Ku-maraswamy. Krishna had the backing of 15% while Kharge was named by 7%. Sid-daramaiah and Dharam Singh were sup-ported only by 4%. So the combined en-dorsement of all the Congress leaders was equal to that of Yedyurappa. Support for Yedyurappa was significantly higher among the Lingayats, his own caste, and more than half the Lingayat respondents backing him to be the chief minister. Ku-maraswamy also received the endorse-ment of his caste, the Vokkaligas, with more than one-third of the Vokkaliga re-spondents supporting him to be the chief minister. About 20% of the Vokkaliga respondents supported Krishna, the other influential leader from their caste. If the Congress had entered the campaign with a clear candidate for the chief minister, it may have worked to its advantage. The Janata Dal (S) campaign revolved around its “first family”, the Deve Gowdas. By the time the election came around, all those who even mildly opposed the domination of the family had been purged from the party. The vagaries of the first-past-the-post election system were apparent in this elec-tion. The Congress won fewer seats than theBJP in spite of a slightly larger share of the vote. Given the intense nature of the competition in most constituencies, only 50 of the 224 MLAs (22%) won by securing a majority of the votes polled in their con-stituencies (Table 3, p 43). In the case of the BJP, only 20 of its 110 MLAs (28%) secured more than 50% of the valid votes polled. Nearly a third of the MLAs secured less than 40% of the votes in their constit-uencies. Most of the BJP candidates who secured a majority of the votes were from the party’s traditional strongholds in Mumbai-Karnataka, coastal Karnataka, central Karnataka and Bangalore city. In nearly a third of the constituencies, the victory margin was less than 5,000 votes. More than a quarter of the BJP’s victories and a third of the Congress were by margins of less than 5,000 votes. How-ever, more than half the BJP and 40% of the Congress victories were by margins of more than 10,000 votes. In the case of the Janata Dal (S), more than 60% of its victories were by margins of more than 10,000 votes. In the first-past-the-post electoral sys-tem, the final result does not often reflect the dynamics of the entire contest. A re-view of past elections shows that while the BJP and the Janata Dal (S) may have been winning an increasing number of seats, their presence across the 224 constituen-cies had been limited (Shastri 1994, 1999; Shastri and Ramaswamy 2004). In 2008, while the BJP won in 110 constituencies, its candidates came in second in 58. This implies that it made its presence felt in as many as 168 seats, around three fourths of the total. In the remaining seats (mostly in the southern Karnataka and Hyderabad-Karnataka regions) the party’s nominees ended up third or even lower. Congress nominees won 80 seats and came in sec-ond in as many as 116 seats. The party thus registered its presence in 196 seats – more than 85% of the total seats. This explains why the Congress vote share was higher than that of theBJP. The Janata Dal (S) won 28 seats and its candidates came in second in 39. This means that the party finished first or second in less than 30% of the seats. Its candidates were pushed to the third position (with the BJP and the Congress occupying the first two positions in most cases) in as many as 112 seats (50%). This election saw a bi-polar contest in all regions. While the Congress was part of the contest in most constituencies, the Janata Dal (S) tended to replace the BJP as the second main party in the southern Karnataka and Hyderabad- Karnataka regions. What, according to voters, were the most important issues and which party did they think was best suited to deal with them? As mentioned above, the period between 2004 and 2008 was marked by uncertainty over which combine would rule the state. But this did not seem to be a major concern with the voters. Only 6% of them felt that this was the main issue in the election. The post-poll survey indi-cates that for more than a third of the re-spondents (35%), basic amenities were the most important issue while 20% pointed to the plight of farmers. For 13% of the re-spondents, unemployment was the main concern and 9% mentioned the rise in prices. When asked which party was best suited to provide basic amenities, support for the Congress was higher among the less educated, less affluent and the non-dominant other backward classes (OBCs) and dalits. The better educated and the more affluent favoured the BJP. When asked which party was best suited to develop the cities, the BJP was endorsed much more in urban areas than in rural ones.Caste has always been recognised as an important indicator of political choice and preference. In recent years it has become a potent form of assertion and almost acquired a political identity (Shastri 2008). Karnataka politics has often revolved around the intricacies of dominant caste politics. Though numerically a little over a quarter of the state’s population, the Lingayat and Vokkaliga communities have always accounted for more than half the legislators in the assembly. In this elec-tion, the BJP had greater support among the upper castes, especially the Lingayats. This explains the party’s impressive For the Attention of Subscribers and Subscription Agencies Outside India It has come to our notice that a large number of subscriptions to the EPW from outside the country together with the subscription payments sent to supposed subscription agents in India have not been forwarded to us. We wish to point out to subscribers and subscription agencies outside India that all foreign subscriptions, together with the appropriate remittances, must be forwarded to us and not to unauthorised third parties in India. We take no responsibility whatsoever in respect of subscriptions not registered with us. MANAGER
STATE ELECTIONS 2007-08Economic & Political Weekly EPW february 7, 200945performance in the Lingayat strongholds of Mumbai-Karnataka and central Karna-taka. The BJP was the only party to project a candidate from this community as its choice for chief minister, and neither the Congress nor the Janata Dal (S) had a leader of stature from this community. This is crucial in explaining theBJP’s success. The other dominant caste, the Vokkaliga community, which has a strong presence in southern Karnataka and the Bangalore, appeared to be split in its sup-port of the three major players. The Janata Dal (S) leadership is from this community and the post-poll survey shows that the party garnered a third of the Vokkaliga vote. Another one-third supported the Congress. The survey also indicates that 20% of the Vokkaliga vote went to the BJP. This could have been from the Bangalore region where the community has a signifi-cant presence and the BJP did reasonably well. Among the non-Lingayat and non-Vokkaliga backward castes, the vote appears to have been split though a major chunk supported the Congress. That Sidda-ramaiah, a prominent OBC leader, left the Janata Dal (S) and joined the Congress would have benefited it. The survey shows that the BJP also had significant support among the non-dominant OBCs and this too could have contributed to the party’s improved performance. However, nearly 40% of the dalit voters were with the Con-gress. This could be linked to the fact that the KPCC president was a dalit leader and a potential chief minister if the party came to power. Both the BJP and the Congress shared the tribal vote. If the educational and economic profile of the respondents is taken into account, one sees a clear demarcation between those who voted for the Congress and the BJP. In the case of the Congress, support for the party declined with an improve-ment in the level of education. In the case of the BJP, support for the party increased with greater access to education. The same holds good for economic status. The poorer the respondent, the more likely his or her vote went to the Congress, and the more affluent, the more likely it went to theBJP.Concluding ObservationsAn interesting case has been made by the University of London’s James Manor (2008) that this election was one the Con-gress could have won. Indeed, if one con-siders the range of leaders from different communities that the Congress managed to assemble and that there was a split in the Janata Dal (S), things should have gone its way. But Table 4 cautions against such an assessment. While the Congress did get more support than the BJP among OBCs, dalits and Muslims, it was somewhat limited by the Janata Dal (S). This is evi-dent from aggregate data. The Congress actually lost a tiny percentage of its vote compared to the last election. In contrast, theBJP made a clear gain in votes polled and as Table 2 shows, in three of the six regions of the state, the Congress did not do very well. In other words, the Congress failed to capture the support base of the Janata Dal (S) to compete against an emergentBJP. While the BJP emerged as a claimant of the Lingayat vote, the Con-gress did not recapture the Vokkaliga votes. This limitation worked against any possibility of its victory. Since the formation of the Janata Party in the post-emergency period, Karnataka witnessed bi-polar contests between the Congress and the Janata Party/Dal for more than two decades. It was only in the early 1990s that the BJP registered its presence in the state and the frequent splits in the Janata Party/Dal worked to its advantage. With Ramakrishna Hegde’s Lok Shakti (and later the Janata Dal-United) aligning with it, the party was able to expand its presence in the state. Electoral contests in the state from the mid-1990s became increasingly triangular even as there were bi-polar competitions within each region. This election sharpened the nature of electoral contests in the state, and smaller parties and independents were squeezed out of the race. The new assembly has repre-sentatives of only the three major parties and six independents. The continued existence of the Janata Dal (S) as a third player in the politics of the state ensures that social alignments are not sharply polarised and that the nature and structure of electoral competi-tion is still tentative. If this election were to be compared with 2004, one notes that while the BJP increased its share of the vote, both the Congress and the Janata Dal (S) saw a decline in their votes. The inability of the Janata Dal (S) to carve out a niche within a specific segment of society or a particular region suggests that it may be conceding space to the other two parties over time. In this sense, Karnataka may be moving from a brief phase of multi-polarity to a new bi-polarity. Notes1 It is important to record that in December 2008, the BJP was able to secure a majority in the assembly as a result of what has been termed “Operation Lotus”. Seven MLAs belonging to the Congress and the JD(S) resigned to join the BJP, necessitating by-elections. Besides, the death of a JD(S) MLA resulted in an additional by-election. Of the eight seats, the BJP won five and the JD(S) won three. So the BJP now has a majority with 115 members in the 224-member house. 2 The State of the Nation Survey is a bi-annual poll conducted in January and August. These polls have helped develop a political barometre, which has been useful in accessing and monitoring the political mood in India every six months. They have been conducted every six months since 2006. 3 The post-poll survey was conducted in 75 of the 224 assembly constituencies in Karnataka. All the 75 constituencies were randomly selected using the probability proportionate to size (PPS) method. For details, see We present data weighed by actual results. References Manor, James (2008): “Letting a Winnable Election Slip Away”,Economic & Political Weekly, 43:41; 23-28.Shastri, Sandeep (1994): Towards Explaining the Voters Mandate: Karnataka Assembly Elections 1994 (Bangalore: Vinayaka). –(1999): “Twilight of Congress Hegemony: Emergence of Bi-Polar Alliance System in Karna-taka”, Economic & Political Weekly, 34:34-35, 2440-08. – (2008): “Legislators in Karnataka: Well En-trenched Dominant Caste” in Jafferlot and Kumar (ed.),The Rise of the Plebians? (Delhi: Routledge) 245-76. Shastri, Sandeep and Harish Ramaswamy (2004): “Karnataka: Simultaneous Polls, Different Results”, Economic & Political Weekly, 39:51: 5484-87. Table 4: Karnataka Assembly Elections 2008 – Who Voted for Whom BJPCongressJD(S)Forward castes 43 22 7Lingayats 56 17 11Vokkaligas 20 32 34Non-Dominant OBCs 28 36 16Scheduled castes 22 39 16Scheduled tribes 33 31 17Muslims 15 46 22Illiterate 25 36 27Up to primary 28 32 14Up to matric 33 32 29Some school 35 27 29Men 313217Women 32 30 18

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