BJP star remains dim in former bastion; Siddaramiah government’s honeymoon glow gets Congress good ratings

The people of Karnataka have a tendency to go against the national mood in the Lok Sabha elections and this is yet again evident in the opinion survey conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) for CNN-IBN and The Hindu.

While the survey predicts an overall loss of vote share for the Congress and its allies nationally “if the Lok Sabha election is held tomorrow,” the Congress’s vote share in Karnataka is estimated to go up by nine per cent, compared to the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. This comes as no surprise considering that the results of the Karnataka Assembly elections earlier this year brought the Congress to power with a clear mandate, with 121 seats in an Assembly of 224.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Janata Dal (Secular) were tied at a distant second with 40 seats each.

Congress vote share

The Congress vote share predicted by the survey for the coming Lok Sabha elections in Karnataka is, in fact, a vast improvement over even the 2013 Assembly results. While the vote share of the Congress was 36.55 per ent in the Assembly elections, the estimated vote share for the coming polls is pegged at an impressive 47 per cent.

Karnataka’s current political landscape is vastly different from what it was during the 2009 Lok Sabha that saw the Bharatiya Janata Party (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 poll 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 caught in a series of scandals. The party itself was bogged down by infighting 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 poll, the loss was a whopping 21 percentage points.

The Hindu-CNN-IBN Election Tracker Survey conducted by Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi in June, foresees a 22 percentage point loss to the BJP when compared to 2009 Lok Sabha election, 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 Mr. 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.

Right moves

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 being 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 the preference for Chief Minister was almost equally poised between Mr. Siddaramaiah and Union Minister [for Railways] 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.”

On Yeddyurappa

The Opposition, meanwhile, is yet to get its act together in Karnataka. However, there is the prospect of the 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 poll. Curiously, he also admitted to being in talks with the BJP central leadership. The expected arrival of the 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.

bageshree.s@thehindu.co.in