National Election Study 2014 Comment

Congress fails to impress in Karnataka

While the BJP has done well in the State, the Congress did not face a humiliating defeat like in the rest of the country

When one first looks at the Lok Sabha results from Karnataka, there is a temptation to conclude that the State witnessed a BJP victory. However, a deeper analysis shows that while the BJP has done well in the State, the Congress did not face a humiliating defeat like it did in the rest of the country. The >BJP secured a majority of the seats (17 seats) in the State but could not match its 2009 performance (18 seats). The Congress, the ruling party in the State, won nine seats and was not able to sustain the gains of the 2013 Assembly elections. The Janata Dal (Secular) bagged two seats thereby retaining its presence in the Lok Sabha elections.

In sync with the national trend

After a long time, >Karnataka went with the national trend in a Lok Sabha poll. It also reversed a well established convention that a ruling party in a State in power for less than a year generally does well in the Lok Sabha elections. It needs to be stressed that though there is a wide gap in the seats won by the BJP and the Congress in the State, there was a mere two percentage point vote share difference. The real story of the BJP victory lies in its good performance in select regions of the State, the >strong anti-UPA sentiment across the State and the Modi factor, especially in urban pockets.

The CSDS-Lokniti tracker, pre-poll and post-poll surveys provide some clues to the results. The ruling Congress started as a favourite, but lost momentum during the campaign. Nearly half the respondents in the post-poll survey mentioned that they had made up their mind on whom to vote for either at the start of the campaign or during its early stages. Close to four in every ten reported having decided whom to vote for either on the day of polling or just before that. This is clearly indicative of the impact of the campaign and the choice of candidates. All the 28 BJP candidates adopted a uniform campaign strategy by seeking votes exclusively in the name of their prime ministerial candidate. More than four out of every 10 respondents stated that Mr. Modi was a factor in deciding whom they voted for. Among BJP supporters, close to six in every 10 asserted that they voted for the BJP because of Mr. Modi. Also important is the finding that close to half the first-time voters opted for the BJP.

The post-poll survey shows that the party did much better in urban pockets compared to rural ones. The party also drew more support from those highly exposed to the media and the highly educated. While focussing on the poor track record of the UPA, they rarely mentioned the >record of the BJP government in the State that was voted out a year earlier; nor did they emphasise their track record as MPs. The Congress, on the other hand, was not able to defend its government at the Centre or focus on the relatively controversy-free record of its one-year-old State government. The ‘behind the scenes’ infighting within the party and its inability to benefit from the new social coalition of non-dominant OBCs, Dalits and minorities also adversely impacted its electoral fortunes.

Consolidating caste votes

The BJP victory was truly in select regions. >The party swept coastal Karnataka, did well in the Mumbai-Karnataka region, Central Karnataka and Bangalore, and shared seats evenly with the Congress in the Hyderabad-Karnataka region. It must be stressed that all its victories in the Mumbai-Karnataka and Hyderabad-Karnataka region (save one) were by margins of less than a lakh votes. The bulk of the Congress victories were in the party’s traditional stronghold: Southern Karnataka. The JD(S) won both its seats in Southern Karnataka.

The BJP also benefitted by consolidating the upper caste and the Lingayat votes — castes among whom it had fared poorly in the 2013 Assembly elections because of >B.S. Yeddyurappa’s rebellion. The votes of the other dominant caste, the Vokkaligas, saw a three-way split with the BJP garnering the higher share. The Congress managed to do well among the non-dominant OBCs, Dalits, tribals and Muslims but this did not enable it to secure a majority of the seats as the BJP also did fairly well among these sections.

It must also be stressed that Siddaramaiah as Chief Minister and his Congress government in the State continue to be popular. Close to nine of ten respondents said that he was the right choice for chief ministership and six out of every ten respondents evaluated the present government as being better than its BJP predecessor.

The Karnataka result was thus a by-product of the strong anger against the UPA and a faith in what was projected as its alternative, both in terms of party and leadership.

While the BJP won a majority of the seats, the Congress contingent from Karnataka is the biggest as compared to what was sent from any other State. Although not an assessment of the State government, this outcome is bound to put the Congress government in the State on the back foot.

(Sandeep Shastri is Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Jain University, Bangalore. Veena Devi teaches Political Science in Bangalore University.)

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