Karnataka Assembly elections: Third-place winner?

A three-way contest without a dominant campaign issue in a politically fragmented State was always going to be too close to call. As the last vote is counted in Karnataka, all the three major parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress, and the Janata Dal (Secular), believe they have a right to stake claim to form the government. The Congress clearly lost the election, but the BJP could not win it. The JD(S) retained its core support base, and finished a respectable third. In such a situation, the contest continues beyond the announcement of the results. Quickly realising it had lost the mandate, the Congress wasted no time in reaching out to the JD(S) with a promise to back its leader H.D. Kumaraswamy for the chief ministership. In contrast, the BJP was slowed down by its own ambition. As the early trends showed it ahead in a majority of the seats, the BJP made no overtures to the JD(S), and sat quietly in the hope of finishing with an absolute majority. What the BJP did to the Congress in Manipur, Goa, and Meghalaya, the Congress is attempting to do to the BJP in Karnataka: steal the election from right under its nose. For the JD(S), the Congress offer is too good to be turned down. With a battle-bruised Congress ready to go to any extent to keep the BJP out of power, the JD(S) did not even have to bargain hard to stake claim for the chief ministership. The BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, B.S. Yeddyurappa, might complain that the Congress is subverting the people’s mandate, but the fact is that no party has a mandate in a hung Assembly.


Actually, the Congress polled the single largest percentage of the votes (38), ahead of the BJP (36.2), improving on its 2013 share of 36.59%. But the BJP had a better vote-share to seats conversion, sweeping coastal Karnataka and Bombay-Karnataka, and finishing behind the JD(S) and the Congress in many constituencies in southern Karnataka. The three-way contest helped the BJP make the most of its Lingayat vote-base, as the controversy over the status of a religion for the Lingayat sect did not loosen the party’s hold in northern and central Karnataka. With the JD(S) emerging as a contender in the Assembly election, both the national parties slipped in terms of vote-share from what they polled in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Only convention and common sense dictate the actions of the Governor in a situation where no one party has a majority. Ordinarily, who gets the first shot at forming the government should not matter if neither group engages in engineering defections: the issue is best settled on the floor of the House in a confidence vote. But that is a big ‘if’. Karnataka can do without the spectacle of horse-trading, and much will depend on how Governor Vajubhai Vala handles the situation.

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Printable version | Mar 4, 2021 9:06:56 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/karnataka-assembly-elections-third-place-winner/article23896170.ece

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