Advantage Congress, Say Karnataka’s Editors
A consolidation of the backward caste, Dalit and minority vote is likely to help Congress sail through
The country’s leading editors, columnists and news anchors have parachuted into Karnataka ahead of Saturday’s state polls, zipped around the state’s key constituencies and told us what they think is going to happen in the assembly elections.
But at a recent dinner I attended, the stage belonged to Karnataka’s leading media experts who still remember the days when Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s mentor was his now sworn enemy, JDS chief HD Deve Gowda. Here are some of the points the state’s leading editors made:
1. It’s the toughest battle they’ve seen in a long time, a hard and close race. But Karnataka will not have a hung assembly. The state has seen hung assemblies only in transition years such as 2004, when the battleground changed from Congress vs JDS to Congress vs Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), one editor observed. Opinion was divided on whether or not the JDS will play a key role in the formation of the government. Most said the JDS was likely to get not more than 30 seats. Everyone agreed the Congress has an advantage over the BJP.
2. Will Siddaramaiah’s Lingayat card—he backed the community’s demand for a separate minority religion status—work to his advantage? The consensus was that while a majority of Lingayats would continue to vote for the BJP, their traditional party of choice (ever since Rajiv Gandhi famously sacked Congress chief minister and Lingayat leader Veerendra Patil at Bangalore airport), up to 20 percent might make the switch to the Congress party. Even if 10 percent swing, it’s advantage Siddaramaiah.
3. The BJP might be on track to sweep coastal Karnataka but the party will need to score in regions such as Hyderabad-Karnataka (which includes the northeast cities of Gulbarga and Bidar, once part of the kingdom of Hyderabad) and Bangalore city to form the government. Both look like tough wins for the BJP, most of the state experts present that day said.
4. If the upper castes have deserted the Congress, there’s been a consolidation of the backward caste, Dalit and minority vote with the Congress. Since 35 percent of Karnataka’s voters are upper caste and the remaining 65 percent of them are AHINDA, even if Siddaramaiah gets two-third of this vote, he will sail through.
5. In Karnataka at least, Siddaramaiah works the crowds better than Narendra Modi and his shrewd deputy Amit Shah. Early speeches of these two BJP leaders were lost in translation, providing much humour to the state’s political observers.
6. The Congress had a better candidate choice than the BJP. Sidelining BS Yeddyurappa, the BJP’s choice for chief minister, not giving his son a ticket in Varuna constituency, ensuring that all party communication was handled by the party’s national spokespersons are all factors that are bound to have a negative impact for the BJP. One only has to observe Yeddyurappa’s body language to know he’s not happy with his role in the party.
7. It’s for this reason that the Congress wants Yeddyurappa to win in his constituency of Shikaripura (and hence the party has fielded a first time contestant who has no chance of defeating the former chief minister). The Congress knows Yeddyurappa can be the BJP’s most effective enemy in Karnataka, one editor said. That old adage of nobody defeats the Congress better than the Congress itself now applies to the BJP, another editor said.
8. The last mile advantage remains with the BJP. Its grassroots cadres are extremely organised at the booth level and no other party can hope to compete here. If last mile belongs to the BJP, the first-mover advantage has clearly been Siddaramaiah’s, the editors said. He was prepared even before Modi and Shah began thinking seriously about Karnataka. It helped that Congress president Rahul Gandhi was viewed more favourably than ever before by the state’s voters. “The people have accepted him as a leader,” one editor said. It’s only a matter of days before we know what Karnataka really thinks.
Priya Ramani is a Bangalore-based reporter and columnist. She tweets at @priyaramani.