One of most talked about aspect in the political circles in India today is the Karnataka election. This is the only southern state where BJP has been in power and is a formidable force. It is the gateway to South for them. For Congress, this is the state where they have strong regional leadership. Moreover, the current president of Congress belongs to this state. Hence this election is of utmost importance.
Not only the BJP and the Congress, Karnataka has a strong history of Janata dal movement with the likes of Ramakrishna Hegde leading the pack. The janata movement is now spearheaded by the former prime minister, HD Deve Gowda and his son HD, Kumaraswamy. Thus being a three sided election, in recent past, apart from 2013, Karnataka has witnessed a hung assembly. In the last 20 years, apart from Siddaramiah from 2013-18, every vidhan sabha term has seen multiple chief ministers. In the term ending in 2023, we had three distinct chief ministers in HD Kumaraswamy, BS Yedurappa and Bommai. In this light, it becomes important to see whether this year will give a clear mandate or it will maintain the tradition of hung assembly.
While it has been a three partite context, since 2008, the fight for being the single largest party has been between the BJP and the Congress since 2008. Every alternate election, the single largest party status shifted between the two parties. BJP was the single largest party in 2008 and 2018, while Congress was the single largest party in 2013.
Let us look at the major issues for this election. Price rise has been a concern nationwide and it is important for Karnatka as well. But this might not be one of the most driving issues. Development agenda of the state as a whole and Bengaluru specifically has been another talked about issue and all three parties cites their own achievement during their stint as government as the model for development.
Another important factor are the schemes announced in the poll manifesto. While the Congress has given five promises, BJP vouches to continue the development work.
Corruption has been a key issue. The arrest of BJP MLA Madal Virupakshappa and his son on bribery charges has caused the BJP to face setbacks. The Congress has emphasized corruption as a primary issue during their campaign, citing various “scams” and a 40% commission charged by a group of contractors. The BJP has attempted to counter this by drawing attention to alleged corruption during previous Congress-led governments, both at the national and state levels, particularly the Siddaramaiah government’s alleged denotification scam.
Another important factor for this election is the caste and communal based agendas of different parties and the reservation policy. Just a few months back the government decided to scrap the 4 per cent reservation for Muslims under the Other Backward Classes (OBC) quota, and distributing it equally among the dominant Vokkaliga and Lingayat communities, while placing Muslims under the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) category, and introduction of internal reservation for different Dalit communities under Scheduled Caste (SC) category. This is expected to have an impact. Moreover in the last few years there has been communal violences on the issue of Hijab and Tipu Sultan.
Caste based identity has historically played a very key role in Karnatka politics. While BJP enjoyed majority supports of the Lingayats, JDS had a strong support base of Vokkaliga community. Congress had a strong base among the SCs, minority and section of OBCs, mainly Kurubas (AHINDA) .
There has been a social and educational survey ordered by the earlier Congress government in 2014. The report was submitted in 2017. But it was never made public due to strong resistance from many social groups. Some leaked reports however suggest that based on that survey, it is the SCs which is the leading caste group followed by the muslims. The politically dominant Lingayats and Vokkilagas come after that. Also among the OBCs, a dominant chunk is represented by the Kurubas.
This election sees every political party focusing over and above their strongholds may be driven by the yet to be published report as all three political parties have been in power for some stints after this report was tabled and had access to the detailed report.
With the newly announced reservation Policy, the BJP is eyeing to get positive response from the Vokkilagas and the SC community along with their stronghold of Lingayats. Congress on the other hand is trying to form a rainbow alliance among all communities. Siddaramaiah comes from the backward community of Kurubas and is the champion of the AHINDA model. Kharge, the National Congress president comes from the SC community while DK Shivkumar, the state Congress chief comes from Vokkilagas. In the run up to the election, prominant lingayat leaders of BJP including forma chief ministar Shetter joined Congress and this has a potential of impacting the lingayat community. JDS on the other hand has continued to focus on their stronghold of Vokkilagas.
With all the above issues, it remains to be seen what is the mandate of Karnataka election. Whatever is the final mandate the focused strategies atleast in the run up to the election by all parties suggests the continued dominance of identity politics in Karnataka.