CEO of Cfore: Siddaramaiah is poised to ‘create’ history

Survey puts the Congress comfortably ahead of the BJP and the JD(S) in Karnataka and projects around 118 seats for the party in the 224-member Assembly.

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Krishna Prasad

Premchand Palety, chief executive of Cfore and former Consulting Editor with Wall Street Journal, has come up with his third tracker survey on April 30, a week or so after he spoke at length to senior journalist and former Outlook Editor Krishna Prasad. The findings show the Congress vote share sliding down two points and the BJP vote share moving up by one point. But the survey still put the Congress comfortably ahead of the BJP and the JD(S) in Karnataka and projects around 118 seats for the party in the 224-member Assembly.

Tell us briefly about what you feel is happening on the ground in Karnataka.

I see a clear and comfortable lead for the Congress. In the two polls I conducted, the Congress has over a 10% lead and we are checking now if anything has changed. But as of now my feeling is that the Congress will comfortably come to power. It should get more than 120 seats.

How do you see all these rival polls which are all predicting otherwise?

I hear all kinds of stories about these polls and from reliable sources. The actual result was something else and then they changed the figures under pressure. One poll says that the BJP is marginally ahead. I am very surprised. Almost all the polls are saying that the Congress is ahead but I’m surprised at the margins they are giving, in one case just 2%.

You have given Congress 47% of the vote share while the CSDS has given 37%. What do you think is happening?

I doubt there is any change because I don’t see that on ground. If we look at the overall picture of Karnataka, there are three or four important factors that are helping the Congress. The most important factor is the welfare schemes of the Siddaramaiah government. The development work is another factor as is his image. He is seen as an honest politician, contrary to some media reports and what the BJP says. And he also represents Kannada pride. People like his stern stand on imposition of Hindi and other things.

You say people see Siddaramaiah as a clean person and that even if there is some corruption, it is not for personal benefit but for let’s say party purposes. But how do you think is that possible?

People say that some ministers are corrupt but Siddaramaiah does not take that money home. That’s important. He wants to work for the poor. He has genuine love for the socially disadvantaged groups of the society. For example, the Anna Bhagya Scheme and the Indira canteens. Two years ago, I remember doing a survey for the panchayat polls and we found a lot of anger among voters there. The reasons for the anger were water shortage, electricity shortage and roads. In these areas, however, the government has done tremendous work. Now, there is hardly any power cut which used to be for 10 hours every day earlier at some places. There are so many water ATMs at every nook and corner in several constituencies and even villages. So many lakes have been filled. He has been very proactive in solving the water crisis, he has done great work in that regard. Similarly, roads have improved. In Bangalore, there was a huge hue and cry over potholes but I’ve been living in Bangalore and I don’t see potholes anymore. Roads overall are in very good condition.

You are saying that personal integrity, social justice and development work are factors in favour of him. But what could go against Siddaramaiah?

BJP may take away Dalit and Muslim votes. What I am hearing is that a lot of money is coming in now and the poor Dalits can be influenced by the money power. They are also putting up Muslim candidates, like SDPI and JD(S) putting up Muslim candidates to take away the Muslim votes. Additionally, we have been hearing about BJP-JDS planning to get into an alliance.

What do you see is different in Karnataka from other states in terms of voting behaviour? What kind of role is ‘caste’ going to play?

It’s not very different, they vote for good governance. I don’t think there is any anti-incumbency factor involved. The politicians who keep their promises and deliver, they vote for them. I don’t see a Kannadiga naturally saying they are fed up of the incumbent government or they are bored of the incumbent government, I don’t see such things. If they like a person, they will vote for him/her again. Since 1985, Karnataka has not voted a government back to power for successive terms. They did not vote SM Krishna back, they did not vote Ramakrishna Hegde back. Why should people vote Siddaramiah back? In 40 years, no incumbent Chief Minister has stayed for five years. He has broken that record, so he is not here to repeat history but to create it. I have confidence in my data.

Has Siddaramaiah’s vote bank remained the same or has it further increased or decreased?

After he came to power, his vote bank is more consolidated now. In 2013, I had predicted 37% of vote share and they got exactly 37%. This year, my prediction is 46%. There is a 9% swing in favour of Congress. The vote share has increased. I see more than 25% of Lingayat votes going to the Congress.

Did the Congress do any polling before they took the Lingayat position?

Yes, the Congress did a poll. Actually, Siddaramaiah was not in favour but the demand came from the Lingayat people. More than 60% of Lingayats want a separate religion or at least minority status. Contrary to what people say, he was very hesitant. Lingayat leaders like Vinay Kulkarni, MV Patil, many swamijis, aggressively exerted pressure on him. Lingayats are unhappy with the BJP not granting them minority status. When a Jain like Amit Shah enjoys a minority status in Gujarat, what’s wrong with the Lingayats getting the status here, is what they ask.

In five regions of Karnataka, what are the main things you are noticing in terms of numbers?

The Congress is going to sweep Hyderabad Karnataka. They will sweep Bangalore. The Congress is ahead in coastal Karnataka while the BJP is ahead in central Karnataka. The Congress is ahead in Old Mysore region as well, followed by the JD(S). The BJP will get around 8 seats in Old Mysore.

What are you hearing about the numbers on the BJP side? What do their pollsters tell them?

Although they say it’s more, internally they also gave 60 to 70 seats to the BJP. My sources confirm that they agree with the numbers we are giving. The IB report less than a month ago is also giving 60 to 70 seats to them, although their process is not scientific and reliable. But anyone who has done a genuine survey, can’t give more than 70 seats to the BJP. In fact, on a TV show, I challenged the BJP and JD(S) people to carry out an audit of my data.

If BJP is getting 60 to 70, that is 20 to 30 more than what they got last time. Where are they getting those additional numbers from?

Primarily because of the merger of KJP and Sriramulu party. KJP got aroun 9% votes last time, that vote has come to the BJP. Additional vote shares are from the Sriramulu Party and other small parties.

What was the sample size of both your surveys for 2018? Was it done in all the 224 constituencies?

First round had 27000 and the second round 22000 respondents. We did not cover all constituencies but 154 constituencies.

The question that a layman will ask is that in a state of 6.5 crore people, can you come to an opinion after meeting just 22,000 people?

Anyone who knows polling and research will tell you that 10,000 is a good sample size for a survey of an election of this kind. We can get the result with 99% accuracy. If the survey is conducted 100 times, on 95 occasions, the margin of error is one per cent.

What do you see for the JD(S)?

We are predicting around 30 seats for the JD(S). Their social base is Vokkaligas who are concentrated in 20 constituencies. Beyond that, it’s difficult for the JD(S) to get numbers because Dalits and minorities are leaving them. The minorities and Dalits have moved towards the Congress. I’m not sure about how fruitful JD(S)’s alliance with the BSP will be.

Parties like the BSP or that of Owaisi’s, what do you think they are up to ?

The talk here is that a national party is funding them to get in alliance with JD(S) so that votes shift away from Congress. The whole plan of the BJP is to break the AHINDA votebank. So far, they have been unsuccessful but a week is a long time in politics.

Let’s assume you are wrong and assume that the polls which are predicting a neck and neck competition are right. In that situation, where do you think the JD(S) is going to go? With the BJP or the Congress?

Kumaraswamy, the younger son of Deve Gowda, is in favour of the BJP. The elder son Revanna is more close to Siddaramaiah and the Congress. The father has also given a statement that he will not go with the BJP under any circumstance. But finally, Kumaraswamy will have more hold on the elected candidates; so it’s likely that they will go with the BJP.

But they have BSP as a partner, Owaisi as a partner. If they go with the BJP, those two parties get exposed. You suspect that it’s a strategic alliance of JD(S) with Owaisi and BSP at the behest of the BJP? People have not been able to see that game?

Kannadigas are very smart.

How much of a role the opinion polls and pollsters have played in the selection of candidates for the Congress?

They have been very scientific in selecting candidates. Every constituency was surveyed. Except for six or seven candidates, all the candidates are good and strong. When compared to BJP, I would say that the Congress list is much better. I know that money did not play a role in selection of candidates by the Congress. The Congress has fielded candidates on the basis of merit and the survey of the constituency.

As a person, how much opinion poll minded is Siddaramaiah?

A. He is a rationalist who believes in the science of opinion polls. He relies a lot on opinion polls.

Do you see the Modi wave or Yogi wave affecting results in the last weeks?

Not at all. Yogi Adityanath has a terrible image in Karnataka. To every state having an election, Modi goes every week but he did not come here for one month. I think he has already conceded or he is overconfident.

What is the confidence level of the Chief Minister?

Very high. If the Congress gets something over 105, he will return to the post of the Chief Minister with the help of independents. But if they have to seek the JD(S)’s help, I don’t think the JD(S) will accept him as the Chief Minister.

Out of 223 seats, how many do you think belong to Siddaramaiah’s camp? Were these the candidates he wanted?

90%. Rahul Gandhi went by Siddaramaiah’s decisions. He trusts Siddaramaiah very much.

Do you think Narendra Modi trusts Yeddyurappa?

No. He does not trust anybody except Amit Shah. In my interactions with some BJP leaders, they privately mentioned that Modi, Shah treat Kannadiga leaders like school children and they are not liking it.

At this point, do you still stick to your view that it is going to be a clear Congress victory?

Till now, this is the situation. I’m confused and perplexed after the CSDS poll, which is saying BJP will emerge as the single largest party. So, I’ll be doing a tracking poll.

You say his image plus the development work will make people vote for him irrespective of the corruption charges that he faces. But people are not grateful while voting. If people were grateful, they would have voted for Manmohan Singh in 2014 as MNREGA was such a huge step...

None of the charges they are putting up are sticking with the Chief Minister. Over and above that, Tamils and Telugus are upset with Narendra Modi. Telugus feel Modi ditched them. In Bangalore numerically, Kannadigas are only 30 to 35%. Then come Telugus who are also 30 to 35%. Additionally, the BJP is perceived as anti-South party. They want to impose Hindi; they are taking away our tax money. For every one Rupee contributed, we only get 50 paisa in return whereas in UP, they get Rs 1.75 for every Rupee contributed.

I heard you say that Siddaramaiah’s decision to make Kannada pride an issue was a well thought out move. Can you just explain it?

Since the day he began his political career, he has been talking about Kannada pride. He actually believes in Kannada pride. He is very fond of Kannada language. The day they put signage on the Metro stations, the very next day he was in action. He is genuinely fond and proud of Kannada. So, it’s not for electoral gains that he is doing it. He wants Kannada to be given primacy and many people in Karnataka like that. About 92% people approved of him removing Hindi signages.

What do you think the first-time voters are thinking of after they have seen Modi’s promises and Siddaramiah’s government?

In our survey we found out that more percentage of people aged between 18 to 25 are with the Congress essentially because they have been beneficiaries of the welfare schemes. There are not only urban youth, but Dalit youth, backward youth, Muslim youth as well. Siddaramiah’s image, especially in the rural areas, is very good. This is a battle between Siddaramaiah and Narendra Modi, and not the previous BJP government in Karnataka…Due to his son’s case, I have heard that Yeddyurappa is not even campaigning for the last four days. It’s Modi-Shah versus Siddaramaiah now.

This interview has been compiled from a Facebook live video

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Published: 06 May 2018, 8:36 PM