The Karnataka assembly elections have gradually turned into a heated war for power and prejudice. 15 days ago, it became a widely debated event due to the tug between MP Modi and CM Siddaramaiah. Now, there are 3 strong parties fighting for the CM’s seat- Congress, BJP, and Janata Dal-Secular (JDS). All 3 have entered into wise barbs and strategic attacks against each other, which has made the elections even more interesting. Some of them have also made controversial attempts to please their vote banks, making the latter an important decisive figure in the elections.
But what benefits have these tactics brought to each party is now very clear. Tuesday’s counting revealed that neither parties have won majority of the votes, thus raising the question of who will form the government. Even though BJP received the largest number of seats (104), their claim to power was hampered by Congress’s last minute surprise. After the results; INC and JDS, in a strategic move, joined hands to form an alliance, thus pooling both their votes together. This means that INC’s 78 seats and JDS’s 37 together make 115, making the newly formed alliance eligible to claim the rule.
The decision was then left to the Governor of Karnataka, Vajubhai Vala as to which party should rule and who is to appoint the new CM of the state. The catch here is that Vala himself is a BJP veteran. His decision in favour of the latter forming the government was imminent. On the morning of Thursday, 17th May, BS Yeddyyurappa was sworn in as the new CM of Karnataka, much to the dismay of Congress ministers. The swearing-in ceremony was met with Congress protests outside Raj Bhavan and a post-midnight hearing with the Supreme Court against BJP’s rule. Despite that, Yeddyurappa was appointed and given 15 days to earn the support of other MLAs to make a majority.
However, the Supreme Court’s proceedings continued and Congress accused BJP of blackmailing and bribing MLAs to support Yeddyurappa. In fact, Congress released three audiotapes as proof of such attempts. After studying these evidences, the SC ordered BJP to conduct a floor test. This was very similar to the confidence votes mandated by Vala, only this time, the SC gave Yeddyurappa only one day. Running out of time to convince other MLAs, the latter announced his resignation on Saturday. Soon after giving an emotionally charged 20-minute speech, Mr Yeddyurappa walked out of the assembly while the national anthem was being played. He headed straight to the Raj Bhavan to submit his resignation.
This has been Yeddyurappa’s shortest stint (48 hours) as CM so far. JDS member, HD Kumaraswamy was sworn-in as Karnataka’s 24th CM on Monday, 21st May. The BJP observed the same day as ‘Anti-People’s Mandate Day’. A floor-test had been scheduled for Friday, 25th May. Congress’ leader Ramesh Kumar was unanimously elected Speaker Of The Hosue. The Congress-JDS alliance sailed through unopposed after the BJP faction, led by Yedyurappa walked out of the Vidhan Soudha. Before the vote, HD Kumaraswamy had told ANI, “I have no tension, I am going to win clearly”.
While the two warring parties figure out their position, let’s explore the 5 faces of the Karnataka elections that made it such a complex affair.
The Lingayats are a strong community in North Karnataka, who want to be categorised as a religious group separate from Hindus. They claim that their beliefs and norms are different from those in Hinduism. The Lingayat movement started off in the early 20th century as a reformist movement (proposing reforms to Hinduism). In recent years though, it has taken the form of a political struggle, as the Lingayats are demanding more political representation. What makes them an important factor in Karnataka’s elections is their swaying support for BJP. The Lingayats historically supported the Bhartiya Janata Party. As per the survey, three in every five Lingayats supported the idea of getting a separate religion status for their community, as proposed by Congress Chief Minister Siddaramaiah. But only one in every four planned on voting for the Congress.
Congress and Siddaramaiah
Siddaramaiah from the Indian National Congress (INC) was the previous Chief Minister of Karnataka. His term will end on 28th May 2018. Win or lose, he has the support of the Dalit and Muslim communities, as BJP has no Muslims among their candidates. Recently, he also publicly stated that he would be fine if he were replaced as CM with a Dalit candidate, thus winning more trust from such factions.
Moreover, his major opposition, the BJP hasn’t been able to find any allegation against him. He has been out-tweeting and out-strategising PM Modi. For example, Siddaramaiah declared his intention of recognising the Lingayat as a separate religion. By doing so, he turned BJP’s strong vote bank in his favour, temporarily. Similarly, he highlighted the importance of Kannada identity, by removing Hindi signs from metro stations and promoting the importance of a separate flag. By doing so, he successfully marginalized BJP’s Hindutva propaganda.
Siddaramaiah pit Kannada identity against BJP’s nationalist agenda. Kannadiga identity is not seen as coherent with Indian in Karnataka. Hence, promoting the local identity has brought INC to the limelight. For years, the Kannadigas have been displeased with Hindi being used in public places. Siddaramaiah acknowledged their identity struggle, slyly winning their confidence in him.
Clearly, polarization trumps communal propaganda. And seeing how strongly people in Karnataka feel about their identity, it plays a major role in influencing the elections.
BJP upped their campaign efforts in Karnataka only 15 days ago. Earlier, their campaign strategy was looking like a cargo train crawling into the station. But once Modi entered the rally, he immediately pulled crowds towards himself. In the past 15 days, Modi’s charmed has proved a strong competition to Siddaramaiah.
For one, BJP brought BS Yeddyurappa into the picture. The latter was formerly a part of BJP but defected from the party due to internal disputes. The reason for Modi to rework relations with Yeddyurappa was that the latter is considered a Lingayat strongman. He has earned the utmost respect of the Lingayat community and bringing him on board would ensure their support. This move also helped make Siddaramaiah’s proposal (for accepting Lingayat as a separate religion) come across as a play to keep Yeddiyurappa away.
But BJP has also made many mistakes in the past. First, they haven’t included any Dalit or Muslim candidates in their list. This is considered a bad move because, in at least eight constituencies, Muslims make up half the population. Plus, Dalits and Muslims have also been badly affected by the PM’s beef ban and cow vigilante. Since these two communities together make up 35% of the population, if they come together, this election is as good as over. And second, about 37% of BJP’s candidates in Karnataka’s elections face criminal charges, including their chief ministerial candidate BS Yeddyurappa. This stat is much higher than that of INC and JDS combined.
JDS and Dev Gowda
Gowda has been regarded as a decisive figure in the upcoming elections. JDS has historically been a supporter of BJP. It was originally believed that if JDS won more than 40 seats (which is a significant amount) they would align with BJP and together the two parties would make the majority. But if JDS won less than 40 seats, Congress would have more power in the assembly. Thus a smart voter may realise that a vote to JDS is indirectly a vote for BJP.
But what really happened is that JDS, receiving only 38 votes formed a coalition with Congress. And while together they made the majority, their plan of ruling Karnataka backfired. Congress was denied the CM seat and JDS lost any possibility of ruling.
With all the confusion happening in the aftermath of the elections, one can only hope that the saga ends here and we finally see stability in the Karnataka assembly. One can only hope!