The Bhartiya Janata Party has been voted to power in Karnataka for the first time. The Partys success is unprecedented as it has gathered nearly 34 per cent votes. In terms of popular vote, it is just marginally behind the Congress which received 35 per cent votes. The crooked relationship between the votes and the seats evidently kept Congress off power.
The BJP had put in solid work after Yeddyurappa was forced to resign his chief ministership last November. The Party had set up 33,000 booth committees and virtually launched its campaign with doortodoor approach. The BJP and its cadre worked with a zeal borne out of revenge following unfair denial of their share of power by the coalition partner Janata Dal Secular. Though Congress has improved its tally from 65 to 80 in the new house, its campaign was lackadaisical from the day one. Not able to project one single leader, it was looking top heavy with a motley crowd of nine chief ministerial hopefuls busy undermining each others prospects. Confusion over nominations and issue of B forms reigned supreme till the last moment. Inflation and consequent price rise also proved to be its undoing. Having been out of power for nearly 25 months (six of which under Presidents rule), the Party was not able to gauge the mood of the electorate who were disenchanted with the coalitional power structure where Janata Dal Secularand by extension the Devegowda familyhad emerged the major beneficiary.
Areas of BJP growth
As is apparent from the analysis, BJP polarized the electorate on its subtle caste appeal. Its major gains came from BombayKarnataka and HyderabadKarnataka region. In the former, the BJP won 38 of the 56 seats while the Congress could take merely 14 and the JDS four. Similarly, in HyderabadKarnataka region the BJP snatched 19 of the 40 seats with Congress getting 15 and the JDS merely five. Whole of the north and central Karnataka is under the sway of Lingayaths with members of the community being Mutt swamis and controlling educational institutions, Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees (APMC), cooperatives and sahakari banks.
It will be facile to attribute BJPs success to merely projection of Lingayath leader Yeddyurappa. It did ensure more support for the BJP this time. But it will get reduced to a fallacy, if the analysis does not go beyond the caste appeal. Increase in the number of urban constituencies consequent to the delimitation too helped the BJP to expand itself. Moreover, the JDS sustained major setbacks with its seats getting reduced to less than half from both regions. Losses of JDS were mainly translated into BJPs success. In the old Mysore region, the fight was almost on equal footing with Congress winning 51 seats and the BJP 53. However, the JDS was successful in retaining its hold by grabbing 19 seats. It may be reminded that the JDS overall vote did not go down drastically. Against 21 per cent votes in 2004, the party got support from 19 per cent electorate.
The situation calls for new thinking on behalf of the minorities. The Karnataka Muslim Muttehada Mahaz (KMMM) which tries to consolidate support for the secular parties will need to reassess its strategy in the new situation. Any party that consolidates sway over more than 33 per cent votes in a trilateral split of votes, is likely to remain unaffected by consolidation of minority votes. It has already happened in Gujarat and has begun to happen in Karnataka too, where BJP can win regardless of minority votes heretofore. Similarly, strategies like the one adopted by the KMMM could go awry in a scenario like the one in Karnataka where one of the secular outfits, namely JDS, had considerably lost its credibility due to its opportunistic alliances during the past tenure. While its secular credentials could be important for minorities, the majority community has more reasons such as its opportunism, domineering influence of triumvirate (father and two sons) over the party, et al, to reject them. Let us be reminded that the KMMM had announced support for JDS in 34 Assembly segments.
The BSP factor too has begun to affect the vote in the State. The party has amassed 2.5 per cent votes in this election and it hurt the Congress most, mainly in the HyderabadKarnataka region. The Congress lost at least 11 seats due to presence of a BSP candidate. However, it could just be a convenient hypothesis. It operates only if the Dalit votes are presumed to be otherwise going to the Congress kitty. It does not happen in all situations as BSP fielded several Muslims and uppercaste too.
Muslims too voted for the BJP
But aside from general tone of the community, it is surmised that about 15 per cent Muslim votes went to the BJP in the State, mainly in the Northern Karnataka. It is common knowledge that activists of groups like Anjuman Madaris Karnataka openly supported and worked for the BJP. Its secretary Hafiz Amjad Karnataki, who runs a madrasa in Shikaripur, constituency from where Mr. Yeddyurappa won, worked full time for the BJP. Anjuman leaders Maulana Abu Sayeed and Hibban Idris Raheemi felicitated the chief minister following his swearingin.
Election ID Cards encashed
There are other points worth noting too. In several areas, the Muslim voters, mainly women were asked to deposit their election ID cards against Rs. 500 to Rs. 1000 on the polling day. Since these votes were presumed to be going against a supposedly communal party, moneylenders were mobilized to carry out the assignment in places like Bellary, Bidar, Haveri, Koppal, Dharwar and areas of Bangalore too. Apparently, the money carried more value with impoverished voters than their vote. Even otherwise, votes were bought all across Karnataka through distribution of money. Such instances were reported from Bellary, a district from where several mining magnates were in the fray. No wonder then why three MLAs, Sriramulu, Karunakar Reddy and Sudhakar Reddy have been given plum ministerial portfolios. Such is the clout of the mining lobby that the Congress had to nominate Anil Lad, the defeated mining magnate, to the Rajya Sabha who has already been elected in the third week of June. Evidently, the Congress has learnt no lesson from its humiliation. It is rather bizarre that a candidate who lost an Assembly election has been nominated to Parliament. An SSLC failed candidate has been admitted to college
Apathy of voters and low turnout is also said to be cause for the setback to the secular parties. Reports of missing names of voters in freshly delimited constituencies too has figured in the media on a large scale. Voters with the election ID cards could only learn that ID cards were just not enough to exercise their franchise. They need to ensure their names on the rolls beforehand.
The 2008 Assembly election calls for serious analysis. Electioneve awakening and strategy of identifying secular, winnable candidates has outlived its utility. Politics is a much more complex game. Trickery, chicanery, money and gadgetry all play their parts. Desirable or undesirable, parties deploy them all in the cutthroat campaign. Moreover, the term secular vote is figment of minority imagination alone. Secularism is crucial only for minorities. The sections within majority community also weigh the candidates and parties in terms of their economic policies, persona and personal hold of the candidate over the electorate and benefit that ensue from them. Naturally, electing people who can deliver bank loans, seats in professional colleges, who can get them tubewells, seeds and tractors, and places on government committees and boards offer much greater lure. A look at the 110 BJP MLAs would reveal that they mainly emerge from grassroots level institutions like banks, APMCs, cooperatives etc. BJP has worked hard in these sectors for decades and is reaping the political fruits now.