If political punditry is to be believed, the predictable outcome of the Karnataka election will invariably be a hung house. And this punditry is based on sound logic which is quite convincing for anyone familiar with science of election forecast.
If you have any doubt, look at these facts: split Karnataka into four parts and try to analyse the electorate’s behaviour. For instance, Northern Karnataka that accounts for 14 of the 30 districts in the state and 104 of the 224 assembly seats is known as the Lingayat belt and a strong bastion of the BJP. The concentration of Lingayats is very intense in certain constituencies which make the BJP’s citadel nearly impregnable.
In costal Karnataka which accounts for 33 seats and have less concentration of Lingayats is equally poised for grab between the BJP and the Congress. Bangalore which claims to represent a cosmopolitan character of the state has 28 seats out of which 18 are urban constituencies. Once again, the region which has a high concentration of non-Kannadigas voters is seen as a Hindutva stronghold. Mysore region, which accounts for nearly 59 seats, is dominated by yet another powerful caste, Vokkaliga, that have a natural affinity to Janata Dal (S) of HD Deve Gowda’s son, HD Kumaraswamy. Yet, the Congress and the BJP claim their own share of Vokkaligas’ leadership.
Apparently, the political behaviour of certain castes is being analysed from a stereotypical prism that has been the hallmark of political punditry. Despite the fact that such predictions had more often than not turned out to be wrong, this methodology is randomly applied to oversimplify the elections. In the process, it actually gets as complicated as one can get.
Does the electorate think in as complicated ways as we analyse their conduct? Of course, there are all indications that despite puzzling political outcomes being predicted by political analysts, the election results would not be that complicated. It appears to be heading for a decisive mandate for one party – a result that may conform to the political trend all across the country.
The reason for the possibility of a decisive mandate in this election is not far to seek. Siddaramaiah has been at helm for the past five years. Known to be a polarising figure, Siddaramaiah evokes extreme emotions across the electorate. Among his own caste, Kuruba, who comprise nearly nine percent of the electorate, he holds an unparalleled sway. But that alienates him from other dominant castes.
What is particularly significant is the socialist background of Siddaramaiah whose tactics are often out of tune with the Congress’s traditional politics. For instance, he tried to whip up ‘Kannada pride’ by taking a leaf out of Nitish Kumar’s book and tried to turn this election as one of ‘the insider versus the outsider’. His projection of Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo as outsiders fell flat as he was flanked by his own party president, Rahul Gandhi. Apparently, his attempt to turn the Congress into a regional force could not succeed. He made a determined move to make a rainbow social coalition of minorities, OBCs and Dalits known as AHINDA (Alpasankhyataru, that is, minorities, Hindulidavaru, that is, backward classes and Dalitaru or Dalits). But such an experiment appears more attractive in the theoretical realm than on the ground. What makes Siddaramaiah’s battle more difficult is the anti-incumbency factor against the sitting legislators who are contesting again.
Though the anti-incumbency factor was palpable till three months ago, it is not visible today in the din of the election campaign which is now dominated by variables like castes, community and Kannada pride. A shrewd campaigner that he is, Siddaramaiah has been targeting Modi-Shah more than BJP’s chief ministerial candidate BS Yeddyurappa whose influence on his caste members, Lingayats, is overweening. The fact that the Congress has social influence and base all across the state is helping the grand old party to remain in the reckoning despite severe handicaps.
On the other hand, the BJP has its influence in limited pockets but is backed by a robust organisational structure which is geared up like war machinery. Within past three months, the party has raised an army of nearly 5.5 lakh cadres spread across 55,000 booths. And they can be accessed through call centres and mobilised in a jiffy. They have been trained to respond to a situation and mobilise people in a short notice.
But it would be wrong to assume that organisational machinery alone would enable the BJP to win an election. The party’s leadership in the state is as much divided by factionalism and dissidence as any other party. Though Yeddyurappa is declared the chief ministerial candidate, there has been consistent attempts by rivals to marginalise him by denying his supporters tickets. The denial of ticket to his son and propping up of his rivals is looked at with certain amount of suspicion by Yeddyurappa’s supporters given the background of a running feud between him and a section of senior party leaders. Of late the BJP leadership has been making a determined attempt to neutralise the fears of Yeddyurappa supporters by unequivocally declaring him as the state’s tallest leader.
The Janata Dal (S) is at best seen as a spoiler in the close contest between the Congress and the BJP, and may wean away Vokkaligas and sundry caste groups along with the minorities –Christian and Muslims who account for nearly ten percent of the electorate. Modi’s fulsome praise for HD Deve Gowda in his first rally is seen as keeping the option open for making an alliance with the JD(S) in the event of a hung house where Kumaraswamy may hold the key to power.
But there is a strong possibility that all these calculations may go awry and voters may jettison conventional caste equations and give a decisive mandate to one party. Given the lacklustre performance of Siddaramaiah in the past five years and the Congress’s organisational vulnerabilities, the BJP and its leader Yeddyurappa stand a better chance of winning people’s choice than others. The fact that Modi’s charm still remains intact is the icing on the cake. However, the electorate has its own way of springing surprises. It appears quite unlikely that the people’s verdict would be as muddled up as presaged by political punditry.
[This comment has appeared on FirstPost.com]