The next two or three days are crucial for Karnataka. The assembly election results have not given a clear mandate to any party — the BJP has emerged as the single-largest party but the total seats won by non-BJP parties is more than the seats won by the BJP. Given this situation, Karnataka might witness intense political activity, including along the lines of “Operation Kamal” of 2008.
There are two or three possibilities: One, the Janata Dal-Secular joining hands with the Congress along with independents to form the government, as an equal or even dominating partner. Two, the BJP will form the government after breaking the JD(S). And finally, the JD(S) and BJP forming government with the former either becoming the junior partner or supporting the government from the outside.
What went wrong for the Congress in Karnataka? After all, there was no apparent anti-incumbency wave against the state government and it is a paradox that the voters enjoyed populist programmes but not the politics of “marginality”. Was the loss the result of a re-consolidation of the two dominant castes to reclaim the political space lost for five years? Or was it the result of pent-up anger and despair? Or is the Modi “tsunami”? What will happen now to AHINDA (minorities, backward castes, Dalits)? These are some of the questions that emerge from the election result.
Karnataka has reverted to the “discontinuity pattern” in electoral politics where no ruling party comes back to office for the second term on its own. However, there was one exception to this state of affairs. In 1978, Devaraj Urs retained office for a second term. The emergence of the Janata Party in the 1980s and subsequently the Janata Dal in the 1990s had brought the three party system to Karnataka with BJP and Congress playing the role of national parties and JD(S), a regional party. This pattern continued with some differences. The BJP was largely identified as a party of the coastal belt/Malnadu and North Karnataka, JD(S) as a party of Old Mysore.
The BJP continues to enjoy the support of Lingayats in North Karnataka, despite the fact that the Siddaramaiah government recommended minority status to the community. Even the policy of renaming a women’s university after Vachana movement poet Akkamahadevi did not cut much ice among the Lingayats. Incidentally, the BJP swept the coastal belt known as the “Hindutva laboratory”. In the process of unseating the Congress, the BJP formed multiple social coalitions, almost replicating what it did in Uttar Pradesh. There is a shift from “LIBRA”— Lingayats-Brahmincombine — to the “3Bs” — Bunts, Billavas, and Brahmins in the coastal belt and with Scheduled Tribes in the eastern part of the state. This helped increase the BJP’s total tally of seats but not its voteshare. In fact, the BJP received 36 per cent of votes, which is nearly two per cent less than the Congress.
The Congress, in sharp contrast to the BJP, banked on AHINDA. This formulation had been tried in the last election. But after coming to power, Siddaramaiah tried to expand the party’s social coalition by resorting to populist programmes such as Anna Bhagya, Ksheera Bhagya etc. The Congress was trying to formulate “AHINDA plus” but the strategy boomeranged. Even its attempt to appeal to minorities by celebrating the anti-colonial hero and icon, Tipu Sultan, provided ground for the Hindutva forces to unleash a war of attrition against the Congress. It also tried to whip up Kannada identity by raising such issues as the Kannada Flag, Kannada-medium schools etc. Finally, it took a stern position on the Cauvery water dispute and communal issues. All these yielded no solid political result in terms of votes. A progressive, socialist chief minister became a victim of his own good work.
There was another undercurrent working against the incumbent government. It is reflected in the consolidation of dominant castes against the Siddaramaiah government. In the political wilderness after Sadananda Gowda demitted the office in 2012, Vokkaligas had been attempting to reclaim lost power. Siddaramaiah’s continued presence in politics was a hurdle in this regard. This election clearly saw Vokkaliga consolidation around the JD(S) in the old Mysore region and it completely swept Mandya.
Two types of politics have come to the fore in this election. The politics of anger and despair on the one hand, and the politics of reclamation on the other. Both of these went against the incumbent Congress government. More than B S Yeddyurappa, Prime Minister Narendra Modi provided a focal point for the consolidation of pent up anger of the Lingayats. The competitive communalism of the coastal belt added fuel to this fire.
In its last bastion, the Congress has collapsed but it has not been completely wiped out. The party’s political fortunes have dimmed too much for it to claim the mantle of being an all-inclusive party. It has also lost its place as the natural leader of opposition forces for the 2019 general election.
The Karnataka election has made one thing clear: Politics will not be the same any more. The political language, rhetoric, discourse, narrative and power relations will undergo sea change in the immediate future. India will not be the same any more.