Modi and Shah outwitted by JD(S) and Congress in Karnataka

File photo of BJP chief Amit Shah (Left) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Right)

Chest-thumping by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah appears misplaced. A pre-poll alliance between Congress and JD(S) would have swept the election and will rout the BJP in 2019

A week or so before the polling in Karnataka, I had mentioned six reasons why BJP was unlikely to win. The assessment has turned out be wrong largely because I underestimated the performance of the JD(S). I expected JD(S) to garner no more than 15% of the votes, leaving the old Mysuru seats, where BJP had little support, for the Congress to bag.

The JD(S) vote-share did slide from 21% in 2013 to 18% this time but not as much as I had expected. To top it all, despite the 3% slide in vote-share, JD(S) managed to bag 38 seats, almost as many (40) as it had won last time in 2013. What is more, contrary to expectations BJP won as many as 15 seats in Old Mysuru region.

Both these unexpected showing reduced the tally of the Congress and pushed up the tally for the BJP, leading to the defeat of the Siddaramaiah Government.

The final tally does give the impression that Kannadigas have given a thumbs-up to the BJP. But is that really the story?

The Vote Share: The vote share of the 2018 Karnataka election makes the analysis even tougher as it is the Congress which has a 1.5% increase in its vote share compared to 2013 when it had won 122 seats. To understand the message contained in the vote-share, the following chart for the last three elections can be relied on.

No Modi Wave

What should be clear right away is that there is no Modi wave sweeping through Karnataka or the South. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls when Modi’s appeal was at its peak, BJP cornered almost 43% of the vote-share and the BJP led in 132 assembly constituencies.

In the last four years, Modi’s support base would appear to have reduced somewhat. The 2018 Karnataka election saw BJP compromising on corruption and not only Yeddy but Reddy Brothers were also roped in openly. And yet, the vote-share of BJP came down to a mere 36%, seven percent less than what Modi had helped it secure in 2014.

In comparison, Congress has managed to secure 38% of the votes, which is three percent less than what it had polled in 2014. If we consider the 2013 assembly election as the benchmark, then BJP has increased its vote share by only 3% , that too after adding up all the votes of BJP, Yeddy and Reddy parties.

That three percent increase was certainly not enough to win the state as Congress too increased its vote-share by almost 2% point. So, it would be facile to project the result as acceptance of the BJP and rejection of the opposition’s campaign that BJP is a North-Indian Party.

Why has Congress lost seats when its voteshare has gone up?

The next puzzling question is how the Congress tally came down by as many as 44 seats when its vote-share actually went up.

The explanation lies in the fact that in 2013, BJP was a divided house and Yeddyyurappa’s party had captured 10% of the votes with 3% more polled by the party of Reddys. Moreover, the area of influence of the JD(S) and BJP are distinct and in at least 60 to 70 seats they are not rivals to each other but both have to contend with the Congress, which has a state-wide presence.

In 2013, JD(S) bagged 21% of the votes, more than 1% higher than the then BJP minus Yeddy and Reddy. So, it was relatively easier for the Congress to beat both JD(S) and BJP in 2013 and secure a majority.

JD(S) and BJP’s tacit understanding on the ground: Many are puzzled by the defeat of the outgoing chief minister Siddaramaiah in Chamundeshwari where he lost to the JD(S).

The probable answer holds the key to the biggest story of this election, namely that JD(S) and BJP had a tacit understanding in several seats to support each other’s candidates on the polling day. This was not due to any strategy or planning by today’s ‘Chanakya’ Amit Shah but a sheer act of survival by the two dominant castes in Karnataka I.e. Vokkaligas and Lingayats.

It’s a fact that prior to Siddaramaiah coming to power, Vokkaligas and Lingayats alternately held power. There are as many as six Lingayat leaders who have been Chief Minister of the State in the last 40 years from the Janata Dal, Congress and the BJP. SM Krishna, formerly of the Congress and Deve Gowda of Janata Parivar are Vokkaligas.

The Janata Dal, with the rise of Deve Gowda in the party became more Vokkaliga-centric with Muslims being the other dominant support group.

In 2013 when Siddaramaiah became the Chief Minister and started pursuing the AHINDA formation, it was viewed as a grave threat by both the dominant castes and their survival instinct came to the fore.

While Muslim support for the JD(S) may have shrunk in the state, the two dominant castes appear to have got together in many constituencies to defeat the Congress.

Narendra Modi and Amit Shah could not have been oblivious that compared to Yeddyurappa, Siddaramaiah’s public image remained untarnished. And yet Siddarmaiah lost in Chamundeshwari and BJP actually picked up 15 seats in the region compared to just three the last time. The Congress which was banking on the support of minorities in this region failed to win more seats than JD(S). This could not have happened without JD(S) and the BJP ( read Vokkaligas and Lingayats) transferring their votes to each other to defeat the Congress candidates.

Vokkaliga, JD(S) and Kumaraswamy the real surprise winner

In 1999 when Sharad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan aligned with Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s NDA, the faction under Deve Gowda formed JD Secular commonly known as JD(S) and reused to join the NDA.

Barring his reluctant and grudging acceptance of his son’s move to form a coalition Government with BJP in 2006, Deve Gowda has remained in the secular fold and forced his son Kumaraswamy to abandon the BJP.

HD Kumaraswamy cleverly took the help of BJP this time in terms of vote transfer and possibly also resources, which helped JD(S) to secure 38 seats despite reduced vote-share.

The possibility of a hung assembly was always high and Kumaraswamy seems to have expected it, judging by the alacrity with which he accepted the offer of support from the Congress.

Some people within the BJP certainly have started looking foolish. Questions must have started being asked about the high degree of support extended by the BJP to the JD(S) during the campaign. And while Modi and Shah preen and claim an unprecedented victory, they would be hard put to explain why they failed to take into account the possibility of a hung house. So much for strategy.

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