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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 18, May 4, 2024

What does the first round of 2024 Lok Sabha Polls in Karnataka signify ? | P. S. Jayaramu

Saturday 4 May 2024, by P S Jayaramu


29th April, 2024

The first phase of Lok Sabha elections in Karnataka for 14 of the 28 seats got over on 26th April. Though I largely believe that the voters keep their cards close to their chest, the campaign and voting trends by leaders of the principal contending parties indicate certain trends.

Let me first address the campaign trends. Narendra Modi who is the chief campaigner for the BJP ( local leaders like the former BJP CMs like B. S. Yediyurappa and Basavaraj Bommai have taken the back seat) has uped the ante in attacking the Congress Party for increasing the Muslim reservation quota by 4 percent out of the reservation meant for the SCs and OBCs. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has strongly hit back by pointing to Narendra Modi’s ignorance about the issue stating that the decision to earmark 4 percent reservation for the Muslims in the State was taken by the Congress CM Veerappa Moiley and subsequently implemented by Deve Gowda, when he was Chief Minister of the State. Siddaramaiah has asked Deve Gowda to break his silence and come clean on the issue. The latter has cleverly a stoic silence about the issue. Modi also perhaps knows it, but is deliberately making it an issue to win over the SC and OBCs votes in the State and largely at the national level. Modi’s strategy doesn’t seem to be working going by the fact that the state BJP leadership is feeling embarrassed and has therefore not involved itself over the issue.

Additionally, Modi’s rhetoric about the Congress taking away the gold, and ‘mangal sutra’ of the Hindu women and distributing them among the Muslim has not cut much ice among the pan-India voters. Not Only the Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge has hit back at the Prime Minister—he has even sought an appointment with PM Modi to explain the Party manifesto—but Party’s national General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has reminded the voters, in her characteristic style, that her mother Sonia Gandhi sacrificed her ‘mangalsutra’ for the nation, an aspect which seems to have struck a chord with the voters across Karnataka and nation. It is time the BJP, and more so, Prime Minister Modi, realise the counter-productive nature of such campaigns.

In keeping with it’s strategy to lay stress on local issues, the Congress leadership has forcefully brought out the injustice meted out to the State on the issue on both drought relief and the GST share meeted out to it. The front page advertisements released by the Government in that regard (the ‘chombu’ ads) stating that out of every ₹100 rupee it contributes to the centre’s revenue kitty, it gets only ₹13 as it’s share has struck a chord with the electorate. The State Government has further underlined that it got the first instalment of ₹3454 crores out of the ₹18000 it demanded as drought relief and that too thanks to its winning the legal battle in the Supreme Court. Needless to say, such strong campaign has considerably swayed the voters to the Congress Party’s side, a trend which is likely to continue in the second round of polling too.

Another prominent factor which seems to have helped the Congress Government is the successful manner in which it’s five guarantees are implemented across the State.

Against the above background about the nature of campaigning, let me look at the broad voting trend in southern Karnataka in the first round of polling. According to available data, Mandya recorded the highest percentage of voting at 81.48, followed by Hassan 77.51, Dakshina Kannada 77.43, Tumakuru 77.70, Chitradurga 77.11, Udupi-Ckikamangaluru 76.06, Mysuru 70.45 and finally Bengaluru rural at 67.29. Bengaluru urban hovered around 52 plus percentage.

Voting percentages broadly reflect continued urban apathy in contrast to higher percentage of voting in Dakshina Kannada and other districts like Mandya, Mysore and Tumakuru.

Though the pattern that one can discern is that Dakshina-Kannada might have continued to witness a broad trend towards the BJP in view of the stranglehold of the RSS in that region, there are indications that the Billawas are unhappy with the BJP this time round and might have voted for the Congress candidate. Udupi-Chikmangaluru might have swung in favour of the Congress candidate Jayaprakash Hegde, who, as Chairman of the Committee, submitted the caste survey report recently. Mandy witnessed a contest between the ‘outsider’ Kumaraswamy and the ‘local’ Venkataramane Gowda. The electorate of Mysuru-Kodagu seem to have veered round to Yaduveer Wodeyar in view of their emotional attachment to the royal family.

Leaving out the specifics of possible victories, the impression one gets is that southern Karnataka witnessed a keen contest, contrary to the belief in certain quarters that the BJP-JDS alliance posed significant challenges at the hustling to the ruling Congress. On their part, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and his deputy Shiva Kumar, who is an influential leader of the region’s strong Vokkaliga community, invested heavily in the region using all the resources at their command to be very much in the race and to demonstrate their strength in the region.

It is interesting to recall that when the Assembly elections were held last year, Shivakumar had predicted 136 seats for the Party and the Party won 135 seats. This time round he said, after the conclusion of the first round of voting, that the Party would bag 10 seats! Shiva Kumar’s bravado notwithstanding, indications are that the Party’s tally in Southern Karnataka may range from 4-6 seats.

The focus of the campaign has shifted to northern Karnataka, a region where the Congress is a strong player. The region would go to polls on 7th May. With a sex scandal allegedly involving the incumbent JDS MP Prajwal Revanna from Hassan ( his father and sitting MLA Revanna too is said to be involved in a scandal) and the State Government ordering a probe into the matter, the issue may affect the image and prospects of the BJP to some extent in the polling. In the ultimate analysis, honours will perhaps be evenly shared by the Congress and the BJP, including its junior partner the JDS.

(Author: Dr. P. S. Jayaramu is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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