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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 24

Karnataka: Behind the BJP Success

Monday 2 June 2008, by Sandeep Shastri


The Karnataka Assembly election results categorically indicate that he electoral battle was very intense with several of the candidates winning their seats with wafer-thin margins. How best can one explain the rationale of the Karnataka verdict? The devil is clearly in the detail.

In this election, across the State, the results indicate that the BJP has assumed the role that the Congress played in the 1960s and 1970s. In many constituencies, the division of the Opposition vote (Congress and Janata Dal) led to a BJP victory. During the campaign, the BJP strategically positioned itself as a rival of both the Congress and Janata Dal, converting many of the contests into a BJP vs non-BJP battle. This paid rich dividends to the party and contributed significantly to victories in many a constituency.

The BJP was able to consolidate its position by improving its performance (over 2004) in two critical regions—the Old Mysore and Hyderabad Karnatak regions. In 2004 it had done commendably well in the Coastal Karnatak, Central Karnatak and Mumbai-Karnatak regions. This time around it has improved its position in the other two regions also.

In Old Mysore, the new delimitation of constituencies came to its rescue. The additional seats in Bangalore city worked to the BJP’s advantage as it was able to benefit from the increased number of seats in other urban areas in the region—especially the district headquarters. In the Hyderabad-Karnatak region, its impressive performance could be linked to two factors. The BSP could have contributed to splitting the Dalit vote in the region on the one hand and the Muslim vote was divided between the Congress and JD(S).With the solid backing of the dominant Lingayat caste, the BJP was able to make deep inroads in the region.

The Central Karnataka region saw the BJP triumph over its rivals in a decisive manner. Two factors need to be budgeted into any explanation of the victory. In Shimoga—the home district of the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate—the crushing defeat inflicted on Bangarappa’s Samajwadi Party was clearly evident. Secondly, the impact of the ‘mining lobby’ of Bellary was not merely evident in that district but appears to have chiselled many BJP victories in the neighbouring districts of Davangere and Chitradurga.

THE social coalition that the BJP was able to construct worked to its advantage. The upper caste-vote appears to have consolidated in its favour. The party also benefited from the votes of the dominant Lingayat caste, especially in Northern Karnataka. The other dominant caste, the Vokkaligas, appeared to be split between the Congress and the Janata Dal (S) with the BJP too getting a small chunk of its vote especially in Bangalore city and pockets of the Old Mysore region. Many anticipated a non-dominant backward caste unity being forged by the Congress. This does not seem to have been achieved. The beneficiary again was the BJP.

The BJP ran its election campaign as a well-oiled machine with no visible signs of disunity. On the face of it, the party appeared to fully back its chief ministerial candidate, B.S. Yeddyurappa. The Congress, on the other hand, had entered the battle without anointing its Commander-in-Chief. There were, of course, a battalion of Commanders-in-Chief ‘in waiting’ who made no secret of their desire to lead the party after it secured victory. The point that was missed was that winning the battle needed a clearly declared commander. Commandership was not a prize to be awarded after the victory conch was blown.

The voters in Karnataka were categorical in their rejection of coalition experiments in the State. During the campaign, ordinary voters would often assert that it did not make a difference which party came to power, so long as one party got a clear majority. The BJP clearly scored over the Congress in this regard.

The emergence of the BJP as the likely ruling party in Karnataka could herald the sustained presence of the BJP south of the Vindhyas. Its impact not merely on the politics of the State but its implications for shaping the dynamics of national politics would be far-reaching.

(Courtesy : The Indian Express)

The author is a political analyst based in Bangalore.

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