- P1 Wed, 10 May
He invites respect, not rivalry. He is seasoned in politics and experienced in governance
The 2018 Assembly election results did not give any party a clear majority. After the results, the BJP was called to form the government as the single-largest party, with 104 MLAs in a House of 224. However, the Congress and JD(S) quickly came together and assembled 116 names (Congress 76, JD-S 37 and three independents) to remove it. Within a year though, the Congress-JD(S) had been toppled when 17 of their MLAs resigned from the Assembly — after being holed up in a resort in Mumbai leading up to this — and switched sides to the BJP.
Karnataka BJP stalwart BS Yediyurappa became the chief minister but resigned on July 26, 2021. He was replaced by Basavaraj Bommai, who, like Yediyurappa, hails from the Lingayat community.
In both its terms in government (2008-13 and 2019 to date), the BJP did not win a clear majority in Karnataka, the only state it is in power in south India. But here is perhaps the biggest roadblock: Karnataka has never voted an incumbent back to power in 40 years.
Karnataka is by and large governed by specific, local factors. Hence, its caste-matrix and regional specificities have dominated the conversation at the time of the candidate selection and will likely do so going forward.
Naturally, the BJP, whose core base is said to be among the dominant Lingayat community. The Congress has a strong local cadre, with bastions across the state. Over the years, it has also found the backing from the SCs and STs in the state (Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge is a tall Dalit Congress leader from the state).
The Janata Dal (Secular) – the party of former prime minister Deve Gowda – has an influence in the old Mysuru region in the state's South. It is considered that the JD(S)’s best bet is another fractured verdict like in 2004 and 2018, which would place it - like before - in the kingmaker’s seat.
At nearly 17 per cent of the population, Lingayats are believed to be the state’s single largest community and reside mostly in North and Central Karnataka districts. Until the 1990s, the Lingayats, followers of Basavanna, a social reformer, largely voted for the Congress. In 1989, it formed the government in the state with the largest majority ever, 179 out of the 224 seats in the Assembly, because of the Lingayat votes mobilised by Veerendra Patil.
Then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s dismissal of Patil in 1990 is said to have moved the Lingayats away from the Congress towards the BJP. This also led to the rise of BS Yediyurappa as the community’s face in the BJP. He remains its most popular leader, despite alleged attempts to sideline him.
Congress, too, is trying hard to woo the Lingayat community with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi leading the outreach by visiting important pilgrimage sites for Lingayats, prominent mutts and more recently participating in Basava Jayanti celebrations.
Said to be the second-largest community in the state, they have historically voted either for the JD(S) or Congress. Former Prime Minister Deve Gowda and Karnataka Congress president DK Shivakumar are from the community.
Several constituencies of the Vokkaliga heartland are bastions for the JD(S) and Congress, and BJP has stepped up its efforts to make inroads in the region during the upcoming election.
Kalyana Karnataka: Earlier called Hyderabad Karnataka, this part has remained a Congress stronghold. The party is working on improving its tally there this time, and is hoping the election of Kharge — who hails from the region — as the AICC president will generate a “wave” to further boost its prospects. Analysis of results across 40 constituencies of the region shows the Congress has won more than 50 per cent of these in the last two elections, while the BJP has lost some ground it had gained in the 2008 polls.
Coastal Karnataka: The BJP produced a stirring performance in the coastal regions of Karnataka in 2018, winning 18 out of a total of 21 seats. It has been a saffron party stronghold. While the Congress could only manage to secure three seats, down from 13, JD(S) got zero.
Bombay Karnataka: In 2018, the BJP won 30 out of the 50 seats here, in a reiterating signal of its support from the Lingayats. The Congress got 17 seats.
Central Karnataka: It comprises a total of 32 constituencies and has kept offering rich dividends to the BJP over the last decade and a half. Save for the 2013 Assembly polls, the BJP has bagged the most seats in the region since 2008. In 2018, the BJP won 21 of the seats, the Congress seven and the JD(S) won four.
Old Mysuru: This region has so far only seen close contests between the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular). When Union Minister Amit Shah launched the BJP’s Karnataka election campaign last December from Mandya in the southern part of the state, his underlying message for party workers was clear: make further inroads here.
Across all of the state’s Assembly polls, the BJP has struggled to cross the double-digit mark in the 48 constituencies in the region’s eight districts. South Karnataka is dominated by the Vokkaliga community that has largely favoured either the JD(S) or the Congress over the years.