Bengaluru: James Manor, professor at the School of Advanced Study, London, is considered one of the foremost experts on elections in Karnataka —he has been tracking the state for close to five decades. In a telephonic interview from London with Mint, Manor weighs in on the main issues in the campaign. Edited excerpts:
In a few days, we will know how the Karnataka voter has voted. What is your sense on the final numbers?
There is a new C fore survey, which shows small gains for the Congress, and therefore a majority. But all of the other opinion polls in recent weeks show that there will be a hung assembly and that no one would get a majority. So, it is very hard to say who is right. C fore has a good record but so do the other agencies, and we are getting different results…
Has there been any change in the perception that Janata Dal (Secular) will be kingmaker in this election?
The opinion polls suggest that the JD(S) will retain much of its existing seats. They appear to be doing reasonably well in southern districts. It is mainly a direct fight between Congress and BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), but JD(S) could hold the balance of power. It may be kingmaker, but if Congress wins a large minority of seats, which is possible, it will be difficult for the JD(S) to ignore Congress.
Secondly, there is a split within the JD(S). Kumaraswamy is leaning towards the BJP, but his father Deve Gowda says if Kumaraswamy joins BJP he will disown his son. He (Deve Gowda) sometimes overstates things and changes his mind. So who knows what will happen, that is a big uncertainty.
We have seen a lot of airing of national issues during the campaign. Will they have any impact on the final outcome?
I think it is very unlikely. They are strong regional, state-level issues. The polls clearly show the voters of Karnataka are mainly concerned with Karnataka issues. Therefore, the back and forth between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi is not very important. Also, the habit of Amit Shah and Modi to call Siddaramaiah names, like Mullah Siddaramaiah, they are wasting their breath. They should focus on state-level issues and hope for the best.
But for the BJP, the trouble is the Congress government has done fairly well on state-level issues. It has few openings to attack the Congress. One state-level issue that Modi has tried to push is corruption, but the polling clearly indicates that the voters think the BJP is more corrupt than Congress because they remember B. S. Yeddyurappa, the BJP CM who was convicted for corruption.
Will there be national implications of the Karnataka elections?
Not much. There are limits to national-level implications of this election, partly because state-level issues mattered, partly because in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, the opposition will, by and large, not be able to develop the strong regional identity that Siddaramaiah has developed in Karnataka. But there are certain trends in the state election which will reappear in the national election, including the emphasis on communal polarization by the BJP. This has little appeal outside Gujarat and UP. Following such a strategy in Karnataka is a mistake for the BJP. It is not working.
What are your biggest takeaways from the Karnataka election so far?
Communal polarization, which is a big theme for the BJP, is failing. It is failing even in the small coastal areas where the BJP has been traditionally strong. I think it will fail in most of India at the Lok Sabha elections also. Also, their control of the election is totally centralized in the hands of Amit Shah and Modi. This has led to mistakes in Bihar and Delhi state elections and it has led to more mistakes in Karnataka.