My 5 May column, which made an early prediction that rather than an outright victory for the Congress party in Karnataka, as some polls seemed to suggest, it would be the BJP that would come on top, was based on early and frequent polling. While polls can go wrong, this column has typically made such assessments based on analysis and not on who pays for what polls. After all, the role of good pollsters is to use data to try and accurately predict the likely results and not to say what any sponsor of a poll wants to hear. It doesn’t mean polls can’t be wrong but, this column’s bottom line has always been to help interpret data and underlying trends, much like we did when Mint predicted—accurately and somewhat uniquely—the stunning success of Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh.
But, since several of you said my early Karnataka call appears to be quite different from the ground reality in the state and smacks of a pro-BJP bias, let me stick my neck out some more and explain what factors are adding up to the Congress party’s imminent defeat there, even as the final phase of voting is set for 22 May. In a sense, this is a preview of the deluge of post-mortems that are likely to flood newspapers and television channels when the results come out.
The most important reason for the Congress’ poor performance is its inability to be seen as a party that can provide a popular, pro-people government. S.M. Krishna- and Dharam Singh-led governments in the past have failed to create such confidence. In contrast, the Janata Dal (S)-BJP coalition government was, for most part, popular. Their governance track record has squeezed support for the Congress and the results of civic body polls in September were an early sign of this. The assembly election has turned out to be a continuation of that trend, with the balance seemingly tilting in favour of the BJP due to the blackmail politics pursued against then BJP deputy chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa by the JD(S).
Another key reason why I think the Congress party will lose this election is its inability to take on board either of the two numerically strong and politically important castes: the Lingayats and the Vokkaligas. My assessment shows nearly two-thirds of Lingayats have voted for the BJP, while a large share (43%) Vokkaligas have supported the Deve Gowda-led JD(S). Significantly, the Congress seems to have secured just 24% of the Vokkaliga vote (less than the BJP’s 29%) and 16% of the Lingayat vote (against the BJP’s 65%).
The Congress party also struggled to amass a lot of scheduled castes and tribes, who constitute nearly a quarter of state’s electorate. This vote has seen a four-way split, with the Congress securing just more than one-third (37%), followed by the BJP (21%), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) (16%) and the JD(S) (15%). The Mayawati-led BSP’s one-sixth of the SC/ST vote has become a major spoiler for the Congress.
The conventional wisdom that the impressive line-up of its leaders from a spectrum of castes would help the Congress turned out to be a mirage. Krishna, while a darling of the scribes who consider him a Vokkaliga stalwart, wasn’t able to build such an identity or appeal within the community. Mallikarjun Kharge, Congress party state president, also hasn’t added much in consolidating support among the Dalit or low caste voters. The one Congress leader who seems to have clearly delivered voters to the party is Siddaramaiah, with the Congress securing some 60% of voters from his Kuruba community.
In this election, Muslims appear to have not engaged in tactical voting, or voting for a candidate with the sole purpose of defeating the BJP. Although the majority of Muslims (56%) did vote for the Congress, the JD(S) grabbed nearly 29% of the group, again hurting the Congress party’s final seat count.
The Congress ran a very lacklustre campaign with no leader—national and state level—campaigning extensively for the party. Despite popular sentiment being against it, even the JD(S) came up with better strategy and tactics by concentrating its resources on 100 winnable seats.
My bottom line
Congress: 50-60 seats and less than its 2004 tally of 65. JD(S): likely in striking distance of the Congress tally. BJP: 105-125 seats, with a good chance of a clear majority of more than 115 seats. Talk to you a week from today after the results are in. Enjoy the suspense until then.
G.V.L. Narasimha Rao is a political analyst and managing director of a New Delhi-based research consulting firm. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org