The Karnataka assembly election on May 12 is likely to set the tone for the next general elections in the country. So who is best placed to win the hearts of Karnataka’s voters?
In Karnataka politics today, there are four leaders who have any significant mass appeal. While Chief Minister Siddaramaiah leads the charge for the Congress, former Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa has picked up the baton for the BJP. The father-son duo of former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda and HD Kumaraswamy of Janata Dal (Secular) completes the quartet.
A look at the relative strengths and weaknesses of these leaders makes it amply clear that Siddaramaiah is best-placed among the four to influence the voters as they decide on the next Karnataka government.
Siddaramaiah seems to be on a strong wicket. One major factor that must be emboldening him is the relative lack of any major anti-incumbency, which has been a hallmark of Karnataka politics for long.
Siddaramaiah’s welfare schemes like the Anna Bhagya, Arogya Bhagya, Ksheera Bhagya and Indira canteens have struck a chord with the rural and urban electorate. Plus political observers believe that the Karnataka government’s decision to accord separate religious identity to the Lingayats has enabled Siddaramaiah to breach the dedicated votebank of BS Yedyurappa, which the BJP had been banking on.
Siddaramaiah’s invocation of Kannada pride and identity by unveiling Karnataka’s own flag and by promoting the use of Kannada in metros and other public places is also likely to work in his favour.
Above all this, where Siddaramaiah scores over BSY is in carving out a much broader social coalition. The veteran of Mandal politics has built the AHINDA (comprising backwards, Dalits and Muslims) constituency which may tilt the electoral game in his favour.
Siddaramaiah’s biggest challenge apparently stems from within his own party. There are apparently leaders who want a different Chief Minister for Karnataka in 2018. But, the Congress high command has tried its best that this factionalism does not affect the party’s electoral prospects. The BJP has tried to target the Chief Minister on his AHINDA platform by accusing him of appeasement but with a week to go before the polls, voters do not look likely to be swayed by this charge.
While the BJP may have hoped to prevent a split in its core votebank by nominating Yeddyurappa as its CM face, who could have gone on his own had he been sidelined, it will also like to leverage his stronger cadre base amongst the Lingayats, who comprise between 15% and 17% of the vote share.
But projecting BSY has had its own drawbacks. Yeddyurappa’s tenure as CM, that was tainted by multiple scams and financial irregularities, has given the Congress to paint the BJP as a corrupt force. It has dubbed the BJP’s CM candidate a “jailbird.”
Also, despite the central BJP’s best attempts to mollify factions, differences do exist between the Yeddyurappa and KS Eshwarappa camps.
The BJP’s thinner social base as compared to the Congress and its overreliance on Modi magic may also hurt BSY’s prospects as the Modi wave is now a thing of the past.
A lot has been written on how former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda is no longer a state-wide factor but the fact is that he is still a revered and popular figure amongst his fellow Vokkaligas and that his son,
HD Kumaraswamy, is popular among the unorganised working class because of programmes like Grama Vastavya that he had launched when he was in power. The tie-up of JD(S) with BSP and Left parties is also something one cannot lose sight of.
However, JD(S)’s Achilles heel could be its failure to shake off the tag of a father-son party with little presence beyond the Old Mysore region.
However, consolidation of Vokkaliga votes may lead to the party garnering the number of seats required by the JD(S) to play kingmaker in case of a hung Assembly which has been predicted by a few opinion polls.