A sea change in Karnataka politics since 2009

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karnatakaJuly 23;The current political landscape of Karnataka is a vastly changed one compared to what it was during the 2009 Lok Sabha which saw the BJP winning 19 of the 28 Parliamentary constituencies in the State. The Congress won six seats and the Janata Dal (Secular) three. Karnataka’s share in the total number of seats secured by the BJP was more than that of Gujarat. It was in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls that the BJP, for the first time in the electoral history of Karnataka, got a bigger share of the vote (41 per cent) than the Congress (37 per cent).

Post-2009, an anti-incumbency wave swept the State as BJP MLAs and ministers were BJP caught in a series of scandals. The party itself was bogged down by in-fighting that led to a three-way split. Eventually, the BJP sank in the 2013 Assembly elections. Its vote share came down by nearly 14 percentage points compared to the 2008 elections. Seen against the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the loss was a whopping 21 percentage points.

The CSDS survey, conducted in June, foresees a 22 percentage point loss to the BJP when compared to 2009 Lok Sabha elections, which suggests that the party’s prospects continue to be on the wane.

An important thing to note, however, is that the CSDS survey was conducted soon after the Congress Government, led by Siddaramaiah, was sworn in on May 13. This is just the start of what is called the “honeymoon period” of a newly-sworn in government and too soon for any disenchantment to set in.

On his part, Mr. Siddaramaiah has made all the right moves within the first few days of being sworn in – announcing rice at Re 1 for Below Poverty Line families and waiving off loans of Dalits and Other Backward Classes. Though there have been fairly audible voices from within the old Congress ranks against the choice of Mr. Siddaramaiah for chief minister – considering his image as a man of the old Janata Parivar – there is no overt dissidence in the ranks. If anything, his image as not a dyed-in-the-wool Congressman has only earned him adjectives like “pro-people” and “Socialist”. It is widely believed that he is “safe” at least until the Lok Sabha polls.

The CSDS survey among elected MLAs indicates that a choice of Chief Minister was almost equally poised between Mr. Siddaramaiah and Union Minister Mallikarjun Kharge. Interestingly, more Dalits have voted in favour of the former, though Mr. Kharge was seen as potentially the first Dalit chief minister of Karnataka if the high command had chosen to anoint him. The decision to deny ministerial berths to some senior Congressmen is seen by a significant number as the “right thing.”
Opposition disarray

The Opposition, meanwhile, is yet to get its act together in Karnataka. However, there is the prospect of former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa returning to the BJP. It is not yet clear who is to give in, and by how much, in the negotiations between the party central leadership and Mr. Yeddyurappa. Even as the “will-he-won’t-he?” situation prevails, Mr Yeddyurappa, the chief of the Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP), has been talking of forging a non-Congress “alliance” before the Lok Sabha polls. Curiously, he also admitted that he is in talks with the BJP central leadership.

The expected arrival of Gujarat Chief Minister and campaign committee head Narendra Modi in Karnataka in the coming month is expected to brighten the chances of Mr. Yeddyurappa’s return to the BJP. But the Gujarat Chief Minister’s campaign during the Assembly polls made little or no impact, and his visit would not make any difference to the electoral outcome.

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