If the three-way division in the Bharatiya Janata Party vote was clearly the single biggest reason for the Congress’ convincing victory in the recent Karnataka Assembly elections, perhaps the most significant element in the latter’s electoral strategy was “social engineering.” The party, senior Congress functionaries say, taking inspiration from the late Devraj Urs, adopted a formula that shifted the spotlight away from the two dominant communities in the State, the Lingayats and the Vokkaligas, to the OBCs, Dalits and minorities.
Giving shape to this social combination was Siddaramaiah, the man who will be sworn in as Chief Minister on Monday: he was backed in this endeavour totally by Congress general secretary in charge of the State Madhusudan Mistry.
Mr. Siddaramaiah, who himself belongs to the nine per cent-strong backward Kuruba community, was able to consolidate the OBC vote — as Urs had in another time — along with that of Dalits and Muslims who came out in large numbers to vote for the Congress. The fact that Union Minister Mallikarjun Kharge — who too played a significant role in these elections — and KPCC chief G. Parameshwara are both Dalits also sent out the necessary message to the community. As for Muslims, having watched the free run RSS-inspired organisations such as the Ram Sene have had in the State over the last so many years, they just lined up behind the Congress.
Mr. Siddaramaiah has christened this social combination as “AHINDA” (alpasankhyak or minorities, induliga or OBC and Dalits), much like Madhavsinh Solanki, in another era, had forged the KHAM (kshatriya, Adivasi, Muslim) line-up in Gujarat.
The writing on the wall
The election of Mr. Siddaramaiah as CLP leader on Friday was a smooth affair, not merely because he was the most popular candidate among the legislators, but because the party’s central leadership read the writing on the wall: having won a well-fought victory at a time when the party’s national credibility is so low, it could ill-afford a revolt on its hands. Party functionaries are also attributing the selection to the party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who, they say, threw his weight behind the popular choice, ignoring those voices who stressed that Mr. Siddaramaiah was a relative newcomer, having moved from the Janata Dal (Secular) to the Congress in 2006, after H.D. Deve Gowda sidelined him in favour of his son, H.D. Kumaraswamy. In this, Mr. Mistry too played his role.
The Congress also had the recent example of the central leadership rejecting the claims of the party’s most popular candidate in Uttarakhand, Harish Rawat, and instead making Lok Sabha MP Vijay Bahuguna Chief Minister, apparently for favours done to a key leader, if the Congress grapevine is to be believed. Since then, Mr. Bahuguna’s son lost the Lok Sabha seat vacated by him, and the party performed poorly in the mayoral elections in many parts of Uttarakhand.
If the Vokkaligas voted largely for the JD(S), a substantial number of Lingayats, traditionally with the BJP, fell into the Congress’ lap, as their tallest leader, B.S. Yeddyurappa, was seen to have been driven out of the BJP.
A section of the Congress would like part of the credit for its victory in Karnataka to go to what it describes as a new model of candidate selection, based on the belief that the party bosses in New Delhi may not be the best judge of men and matters in Karnataka’s deeply complicated caste-ridden politics. This section claims that a conscious decision was taken to treat the local and district level voices and interests, rather than senior State leaders, as the primary key input in selection of candidates.
But the fact is that this is the traditional method of selecting candidates, allowing the names to come up from the block and district level to the State election committee, from where it goes to the central screening committee and finally to the central election committee.
In the past, senior leaders have ensured that favourites’ names are included — sometimes by influencing district committees to put such names in their panels and sometimes by introducing them at a later stage. But the selection process in Karnataka, this time, say party sources in the know, while somewhat more methodical was entirely not able to prevent relatives of senior leaders creeping in to the list. Sons of senior leaders Mr. Kharge and Dharam Singh contested and won, while S. Bangarappa’s son lost to another son who fought on a JD(S) ticket and a sitting MLA’s ticket was cut to accommodate C.M. Ibrahim (who lost). In short, the selection of candidates was not entirely free of nepotism or manipulation, especially in the second list, but it was certainly more systematic and adhered by and large to Mr. Siddaramaiah’s AHINDA formula.
In addition, aspirants whose names did not figure in the panels could submit CVs, along with a fee of Rs. 10,000 (for general candidates) and Rs. 5,000 (for SCs and STs). A sum of Rs. 3 crore was raised from this exercise, party sources said.
That AHINDA line-up — along with the overwhelming mood against the BJP — rather than some new “merit-based” selection saw the Congress sailing through.