Home / Politics / Policy /  The arithmetic behind the Karnataka electoral contest

New Delhi: The trilateral contest in Karnataka is crucial for all the parties in the fray —for the Congress because it is one of the few large states where it is in power, for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for which it is a gateway to the South, and for the Janata Dal (Secular) or JD(S) because it is a fight for its political relevance.

An analysis of electoral data suggests that three key factors will have a large bearing on the verdict. The first factor is the extent of the Lingayat support the Congress party is able to wean away. The second factor is the BJP’s ability to make inroads in south Karnataka, where it has historically been weak. The third factor is the stability of the Congress’s AHINDA (an acronym for backward castes, minorities and Dalits) social coalition.

The Lingayats have been the core support base of the BJP in Karnataka since they started drifting away from the Congress in early 1990s, surveys conducted by Lokniti, a research programme at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) show.

The BJP’s defeat in the last assembly election was partly because of the fragmentation of the Lingayat vote which split because of the exit of former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, the foremost Lingayat politician in the state. The Siddaramaiah government’s decision to recommend minority status for the community was aimed at denting this core support base of the BJP. Multiple surveys over the last one month don’t indicate any major change in the voting intentions of the community, and they seem to continue to back the BJP.

The party-wise support in Karnataka, as in most other states, also varies across regions. The state can be divided into six main regions—Hyderabad Karnataka, Bombay Karnataka, coastal Karnataka, central Karnataka, south Karnataka and Bangalore city. The BJP tends to do relatively better in the Lingayat-dominated regions of Hyderabad Karnataka and Bombay Karnataka in the northern parts of the state. In 2013, Yeddyurappa’s KJP had dented the BJP’s prospects in north Karnataka.

In the southern part of the state, the BJP has always been behind the Congress and the JD(S) in terms of popularity. It remains to be seen whether the BJP is able to make inroads into this region this time, and dent its opponents’ prospects.

The Congress’ support base is fairly dispersed across the state which leads to an adverse vote-to-seat conversion rate. In 2008, for instance, the Congress lost the election despite having a marginally higher overall vote share as compared to the BJP.

The Congress’s prospects depend heavily on the strength of its AHINDA coalition (minorities, backward classes, and Dalits). While the Kuruba community and Muslim voters are likely to remain with the Congress, the party’s support among Dalits may be at risk. The BJP has been trying to make inroads among Dalits by supporting the demands of worse-off Dalit groups.

The fragmentation of the Vokkaliga vote could also be critical. In the last two Lok Sabha elections, the BJP has done relatively better among Vokkaligas while the JD(S) has been able to win their support in the assembly elections. Recent surveys seem to indicate that a significant section of Vokkaligas may be supporting the JD(S) even as the BJP has been able to retain some support among Dalits.

It remains to be seen if the Congress party manages to retain power in a state which has historically been unkind to incumbents. A lot depends on how voters react to the extensive campaigning during the last leg of the campaign.

Sanjay Kumar is a professor and currently director at CSDS, and Pranav Gupta is a researcher with Lokniti-CSDS.

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