Monday, January 7, 2013

There is overwhelming electoral evidence to suggest that 21st Century Indian democracy is essentially about governance and development politics, rather than about caste or identity. Since the dawn of the new millennium there have been 77 electoral battles, both nationally as well as at the state level, and a whopping 71 of them have managed to produce a positive mandate of giving either a majority or near majority to one of the party or group. What it means is that 92% of all Indian elections since 2000 have produced positive results.

The message is loud and clear from the Indian voters to their political leaders; “we will give you majority and stability, you deliver on the governance quotient”. This is indeed an amazing evolution from the politics of the 90′s whence the Indian voter tended to vote purely on the basis of identity, which invariably led to fractured mandates. Today, even highly mandalized Hindi-heartland area has started producing unanimous verdicts cutting above caste and ethnic divisions.

Apart from the 2004 national elections, the erstwhile greater Bihar region has been the only major exception to this rule of electoral majorities; Bihar in 2005 and Jharkhand in 2005 & 10. Beyond this, the list of electoral instabilities is almost totally empty, but for a very strange south Indian companion – Karnataka.

An Indian political antithesis known as Karnataka

Karnataka has always been a state that has swam against the political tide prevalent in the country at any given time. In the mid-late 70′s when the whole of India was swept by the JP wave, Karnataka was one of the rare exceptions that still reposed faith in the Congress party. So much so that a down and defeated Indira Gandhi travelled all the way to this southern state and won a by-election in Chikamagalur to return back to the parliament.

As a stark contrast, in the mid-80′s when India was grieving Indira Gandhi’s assassination and was giving an unprecedented majority to Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress everywhere, Karnataka chose to elect an upstart known as Ramakrishna Hegde and his Janata party (which was almost defunct everywhere else). Similarly, in 1989, when all of India was in a Bofors-wave and had turned totally anti-Rajiv, Karnataka chose to give an almost 2/3rd majority to the Congress party in the state.

In 1999 elections, following the Kargil war, when India was swept by a Vajpayee/NDA wave, Karnataka was once again an exception to the rule – elected a S.M. Krishna led Congress government. Then in 2004 & 2008-09, when the Congress party was on the path to revival all over India, it lost successive elections in the state. Thus today, when all over India, people are electing majority governments for better governance, Karnataka stands as almost a lone exception with deep-rooted political instability as the order of the day.

In fact, the electoral-political history of the state in the post-emergency era is a textbook of antithesis to the central theme of India. It wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that every election in Karnataka since 1975 has produced a contrary result to that of the corresponding Indian national election, take a look at the table below;

Data Source: Election Commission of India

Political fragmentation and instability

2004 saw an exceptional election in Karnataka’s political history. For the first time there was a three-way split in the voter choice, something unprecedented not only in the state but probably in entire south India. Even in 1983, when the state saw a coalition government for the first time, such fragmentation was unheard of (INC = 82, JP = 95, BJP = 18 in 1983).

In 2004, all the 3 principal players won identical proportions of assembly seats – 79, 65 & 58 by BJP, Congress & JDS respectively. This made it impossible to not only have any kind of stability but also for any party to have any kind of upper hand in government formation. Furthermore, even splitting any party in favour of another party was also extremely difficult as all three had mostly captured mutually exclusive vote in terms of region/caste/religion.

For instance, the BJP and JDS vote-banks were almost mutually exclusive – if the JDS core vote was that of Vokkaligas belonging to old Mysore, that of BJP belonged to Veerashaivas of North Karnataka. Similarly, if the Congress vote was that of minorities and marginalized sections belonging to the villages, that of BJP was essentially Hindu and urban in nature. Thus there was no incentive for the MLAs to quit their parent party’s and hop over to another, as there was inherent caste-regional antagonism involved. This was a classic case of fragmented polity, albeit it had come a decade late to this state.

This fragmentation continued even in the 2008 elections, when all the three parties more or less maintained their core-vote, but BJP managed to gain about 5% vote-share from the “others” to almost win the elections. Thus, in reality, the 2008 assembly elections of Karnataka did not see any path-breaking social-engineering or an alternate political reality; it was simply an amalgamation of “other’s” vote-share to the winning party.

Data Source: Election Commission of India

Future imperfect for Karnataka

  • Classically, anti-incumbency should have helped the main opposition party tremendously, but the Congress party has shown remarkable strategic lethargy in the state to further augment political fragmentation rather than consolidation
  • Congress party wants to win the upcoming assembly elections by default, but that won’t be easy with its current vote share of around 35% which can at best take its tally to 80 assembly seats; the party needs a 4%+ swing in its favour to get close to the majority mark
  • Congress has never won Karnataka by polling less than 40% of the vote-share
  • Due to its widespread political base in the state, Congress party needs higher vote-share than others to win elections, which is an inherent handicap. The widespread base of the party is apparent if one looks at the number of seats that the party forfeited its deposit in the last 2 elections vis-à-vis other parties. (see the table below)

    Data Source: Election Commission of India, FD = Forfeited deposit

  • At the very outset, it can be stated without any hesitation that BJP is going to lose the 5%+ vote-swing that it accrued last time from all sections of the society, for the voter knows that the party is not winning this time
  • Taking the 2004 vote-share of 28% as BJP’s core vote-base, one can safely assume that the party will see a big dent even in that base due to desertion by its main vote-catcher, B.S Yeddiyurappa
  • Estimates suggest that almost 40% of the total BJP vote-base of 28% comes from the Veerashaiva/Lingayat vote, which is definitely heading away from the party in a big way
  • Anti-incumbency, drought, internal quarrels, the BSY factor, shift in Lingayat vote, could all combine together to take BJP’s vote-share in the state to the sub 20% levels – as was last seen in 94 & 99 with seat tallies of around 40
  • The best performance for JDS was in 2004 and it is unlikely that it will improve beyond that, as it is a marginal player in North Karnataka
  • For a party that consistently forfeits its deposits in more than 100 seats and is essentially fighting in only about 100 odd seats, winning percentage cannot go beyond 60% – or about 60 odd assembly seats for the JDS
  • Classically, in Karnataka, regional parties have not met with electoral success, unlike other south Indian states, even JDS has been only marginally successful in the recent times
  • BSY’s KJP experiment is also not expected to have any great success in the state, but it’s best hope lies in winning enough seats to simply stay relevant in a hung assembly scenario and play the role of the king-maker
  • At present there is tremendous mobilization of agrarian castes and Veerashaivas in the whole of Bombay-Karnataka and pockets of Hyderabad-Karnataka & central Karnataka in favour of KJP, but it remains to be seen if this momentum can be sustained in the absence of substantial organizational presence of this new party
  • In the unlikely scenario that JDS and KJP come together as a pre-electoral coalition, it would be similar to the Ramakrishna Hegde-Devegowda combo in the 90′s and could potentially sweep the state due to their mutually complimentary vote banks


The ruling group of Karnataka BJP is a pack of pessimists; that they lack the killer instinct is well known, but what is surprising is that they don’t have even a basic zeal to emerge victorious in the elections. Although state BJP leaders put up a brave front for public consumption, most of them concede privately that they stand no chance in hell of winning the next assembly elections in the state. Most Karyakartas have been told by their leaders to be prepared for a long spell in the opposition.

Many of the so called “leaders” of the Anant Kumar gang tell you candidly that it doesn’t matter if Congress or JDS come to power in state, it would be business as usual for them because their leader has great rapport with Congress & JDS leaders. “In fact, our works got stalled in the BJP government headed by BSY, so it is better that there be a Congress government in the state” avers one of those “leaders”. This is at the core of the problems for BJP in Karnataka. BSY has this incredible zeal to win at any cost and that translates into super-human efforts by the local Karyakartas. BJP minus BSY is simply an electoral non-entity that would crumble like a pack of cards.

  • Avatar
    chinmay • a day ago

    There can be little doubt that Karnataka is a contrarian state where normal political assumptions hold little value and the voters have most of the times made monkeys out of the best political analysts.The political colorfulness of Karnataka can be rated second only to that of Uttar Pradesh.The coming assembly polls in Karnataka are perhaps the most interesting out of the half a dozen state elections as these could well give us an overview of how the national politics are going to shape up in next one and half year.This because this particular election will test the ability of congress to face formidable national and regional opponents at state level.So Karnataka elections will in a way be a microcosm of the bigger battle that is likely to take place in 2014 or earlier ) according to some recent political rumuors).One should always bear in mind that are “NO CAKEWALKS” in politics and those who unfortunately cherish such notions are going to eat mud on the counting day.

    The one safe assumption (I dare say almost conclusion) that one can make regrading these elections is that ruling party BJP is well and truly on its way out of the state politics(not just government).For a party that was almost looking likely to hold onto power as late as december 2011 this drastic fall is not just shocking but depressing too.Depressing because in the cacophony of media orchestrated anti corruption noises a lot of excellent work done by BJP government from 2008 particularly in rural areas has been completely lost.Well these elections were never about ability or inability of BJP to hold onto power in first instance.BJP from outset was never in picture post BSY exit.The elections are about the other 2 major players in Karnataka politics today and they are congress,JDS and new entrant KJP.

    So who is likely to benefit electorally and form the government.These are too early times to draw definitive conclusions but straws in wind indicate JDS and KJP are likely to give congress a race for its money.Having traveled in North and southern parts in Karnataka last August the sense I gained was that both Bengaluru and Delhi media and political establishments are mistakenly writing off HDK and Yeddy without proper ground knowledge.The main reason for this is Most of the analysts have been unable to read the new socio-political map of Karnataka where caste divisions are firmly entrenched.The large scale dissatisfaction particularly among vokkalingas and lower backward classes can be easily sensed.Karnataka is slowly devel;oping into a claudron of caste and money politics just like the neighbouring Andra Pradesh.The political trajectories of the two states are in many ways parallel in nature.The way politics in both states are increasingly revolving in both the states could have debilitating consequences in future.Jagan reddy in AP and JDS and yeddy in Karnataka are the new masters of political populism most of it a positive outspring of goodwill generated by successful welfare schemes .But even to cash on the inherent goodwill among the masses and translate it into seats at time of elections U need a successful party organization and to build it requires time and perservence.It’s here Yeddy largely trips.For all his political acumen he took too much time in deciding his future course of action which has resulted in insufficient time in party building.

    On a different plane the dissatisfaction generated against present BJP regime due to spate of corruption scandals,poor power scenario,agrarian crisis due to a bad drought and political instability in BJP are slowly but steadily turning into a search for better alternatives across the state.this yearning for stable governance is unlikely to yield exceptional results for congress as is being imagined in some sections.In reality these sections by inflating congress fortunes are likely to ensure a bad crash landing for congress after elections.With congress state unit too facing similar political troubles that have been characteristic of BJP JDS and yeddy are likely to fill the vaccum thus altering the political map of the state.Congress despite its steady vote share is characterised by factional infighting,groupism and lack of imagination.

    Siddharamaiah despite the media hype is not that popular a leader and lacks the pan state appeal although it must be conceded that he is a favorite of sizeble sections of congress grassroots cadre.Beyond the kuruba caste group where he is assured vote puller his ability to draw votes from larger sections of OBC and minority and SC groups is still in question.As for SM Krishna he is a pale shadow of his former self and what’s is surprising is that his rule is rather unpopular in rural areas which should caution congress on any attempt to project him as party face.

    Yeddy and HDK have been able to emerge to a large extent as saviours of the farming community.(to be cont)

  • Avatar
    Albatrossinflight • 8 hours ago

    Have read some of the comments here and on twitter suggesting that BSY’s political strength is overstated. That is a gross miscalculation, similar to the one made by those advising BJP’s central leadership on Karnataka. All those who argue that BSY is electorally useless is either naïve or looks at Karnataka politics purely through Bangalore/old-Mysore prism. Let me try & give 3 specific instances of the alternate political reality.

    1) In Yadgir District: This seat was once a bastion of Mr. Mudnal, who was a staunch anti-Congress/anti-Indira political entity and used to contest on Swatantra Party and also win handsomely in the 60’s & 70’s going against the Congress waves (sometimes as the lone representative of the party). He then joined the JP movement & was also a powerful cabinet minister in the Hegde government. In the late 80’s he got disillusioned by electoral politics & took voluntary political sanyas. Since the patriarch’s death a few years ago, the Mudnal family has remained electorally inactive, but politically active (apart from 2004, when 1 of the family members contested as an independent & won). Even today the Mudnal family wields considerable political influence in this area. Last month, the patriarch’s son, Venkatreddy Mudnal took a convoy of 50 vehicles to BSY’s Haveri rally. Many independent observers believe that if the junior Mudnal contests the elections then it could be a cakewalk for him.

    2) In Bagalkot/Bijapur districts: Pramod Mutalik, that much hated man by the English speaking gentry (even of the right persuasion), has tremendous influence in these districts, so much so that at least 4-5 sitting legislators of the BJP owe their victories to Mr Mutalik. If one were to visit small towns and villages like Jamakhandi, Rabkavi, Banhatti et al, one would realize the importance of his political organizational skills. Ask any young kid in these villages and they will tell you that their entire “village will vote as per Mutalik mama’s wishes”. Today Pramod Mutalik is working tirelessly for BSY & KJP in this region!

    3) In Bidar district: Basavakalyan is an important anti-Congress bastion. Here Basavaraj Patil Attoor, who was one of the founding members of the Janata movement in the state along with Hegde and Gowda, has a lot of goodwill and has won this seat 4 times in the past (including 2008 on BJP ticket). Last year, he had a near fatal car accident and has been left blind in one of his eyes. This is an incident which has gained him a great deal of sympathy among his constituents and he is sure to emerge victorious, no matter which party he contests from. Again, he is one of the stalwarts who has joined BSY’s KJP to only strengthen the party further.

    These are just three instances that act as pointers to BSY’s influence, there are many such aspects all over Bombay-Karnataka and parts of Hyderabad-Karnataka. If anything, we are only under-reporting the political influence and electoral power of BSY. It would not be an overestimation to suggest that there is a mini Yeddiyurappa wave in North Karnataka. Of course, this wave may dissipate in 3-4 months by the time elections are actually held and other parties with better organizational strength might tap all this goodwill, but there is no denying the fact about the wave, as of now. Even in Gujarat, in the absence of a towering Modi, GPP could have easily captured 30 odd seats despite the strong organizational presence of BJP (the results of Gujarat elections actually do not do justice to Keshubapa’s charisma as a leader, because he was overshadowed by a leader with far greater charisma).

    One last point: on Veerappa Moily, Dharam Singh, Gundurao, Bangarappa etc., all these leaders did not win a mandate for their party in an election, they were just post-electoral compromises. In Karnataka no party has ever won, nor will they ever win a mandate without either a strong Lingayat or Vokkaliga leading from the front. Ramakrishna Hegde was the only exception to that rule, but then, he was only a Lingayat disguised as a Brahmin (as far as the voters were concerned). Even the much vaunted Devraj Urs was unsuccessful outside the Congress ecosystem.

  • Dear AlbatrossInFlight,
    Firstly, I would like to thank you for your brilliant analysis on the prospects of BJP, I really enjoy reading your articles and also the various comments on your posts. Regarding the situation BJP finds itself in Karnataka, I do agree with your analysis albeit partially. Because, Yeddy factor may be grossly overestimated, he would certainly damage BJP considerably but he may not be able to win many seats. According to my good friend journalist Vicky Nanjappa, who has his ears close to the ground realities in Karnataka, the rough estimates of the seats each party might win in assembly election 2013 is as follows;
    Congress: ~ 90
    BJP: 60 – 70
    JDS: 50 – 60
    KJP: ~ 20
    Hence in all likelihood, we can expect a Congress-KJP alliance government in Karnataka after the next elections. I do have hope in Jagdish Shettar and his deputy R. Ashok, though I am aware that Shettar may not prove to be a Shivraj Singh Chauhan or Narendra Modi and make Karnataka, the ideal Hindutva state. But he will not be Rajnath Singh or Sushma Swaraj and let BJP slip into oblivion in the state, at least thats what I would happily settle for, given the circumstances.
    Thanking you,
    Yours sincerely
    Sikhar Banerjee

  • The Guru’s analysis is characteristically spot-on till the last bit about BS Yeddyurappa. The 2008 BSY victory was largely due to the Reddy bros and iron ore mining factor, and the sympathy that BSY had garnered as a result of JDS betrayal. Both these factors are out of the equation. It is well known that Reddy bros financed the BJP-BSY campaign. BJP won 8 of 9 assembly seats in Bellary district and constantly threatened BSY govt with 30-60 MLAs (depending on the season!).

    1) Thanks to Supreme Court intervention, mining has virtually stopped for the last couple of years and consequently illicit money supply into politics has reduced drastically. The miners-politician mafia is more interested in conserving their ill gotten wealth rather than spending it on political expeditions. In the absence (or reduction) of money power, other factors will have greater influence on voting patterns.

    2) The eldest and most active politician among the Reddy clan, G.Janardhan, is cooling his heels in a Hyderabad prison and his Reddy business-associate and friend from across the border, Jaganmohan is also in jail. With mining operations largely ceasing in Bellary, Jagan is unlikely to help or support the Reddy bros. any longer.

    3) B. Sriramulu’s BSR Congress is the Reddys’ local party and is expected to capture the ‘paid-votes’.

    4) ‘Caste’ is another overstated factor – Karnataka has seen Chief Ministers such as Veerappa Moily, S.Bangarappa, Gundu Rao and recently even N.Dharam Singh, whose castes have negligible clout in Karnataka as a whole. Drastic Veerashaiva polarisation is unlikely.

    5) Drought has been most acute in Mysore Karnataka and Bombay Karnataka has been relatively better off. So if drought=anti-incumbency it should benefit JDS the most.

    While am no Ananth Kumar fan, BSY’s influence is hugely overstated. BJP may well be routed and it may have a lot to do with chaos generated by Ananth Kumar. BSY’s exit will dent the BJP, but whether it can devastate is debatable.


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