All hail the wise and sagacious Karnataka voter

MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: The BJP hoisting the saffron flag for the first time on its own south of the Vindhyas is remarkable indeed. But what is equally remarkable is the manner in which the Election Commission ensured a peaceful poll after delimitation to give an elected government in six months—and how quickly and easily the voters of Karnataka warmed up to it.

In a way, both the EC and the voters happen to be the real winners in a seesaw and nerve-racking battle of the ballot in the State.

It was trying time for both.

The electorate had to rise above the array of allurements proferred by the parties, to make their choice clear and categorical, especially in the context of the political havoc brought about by the fractured mandate of the previous poll.

They proved wrong the political parties, who had cried foul when the EC took measures to ensure strictest adherence to the code of conduct, wrong, and gave open expression to the parties’ apprehension of the deleterious impact the restrictions may have on the turnout.

In fact, the electorate put in a better poll turnout than last time, with an additional 10 lakh voters exercising the franchise over and above the 251 lakh people who had voted in 2004. While the politically articulate urban voters exhibited their usual indifference in participating in the poll process, their rural counterparts gave an exhibition of their better commitment to democratic values.

The Election Commission, on the other hand, resisted the pressure from the higher echelons of the UPA government in New Delhi, to ensure that the Karnataka got its elected government on the expiry of six months of the President’s rule, a feat which has come in for commendation by all those interested in upholding democratic values and strictest adherence to constitutional niceties.

The EC also took steps to ensure that elections were held in a clean atmosphere free from environmental and noise pollution, and curbed the open flaunting of money clout by the contestants.

Now that it is all over, what is particularly noteworthy is the political maturity displayed by the voters in making their political preferences.

For, it is a case of the electorate trusting BJP but not fully. The voters have trusted the BJP enough to give it an additional 31 seats over and above the seats which it had won previously. This could be attributed to electorate finding merit in the BJP grievance of betrayal by the JDS and positive response to the BJP’s plea for being given “one chance” to rule.

But that the electorate has not trusted it fully is evident from the fact the BJP was caught three short of the magic number with 110 seats. A slip in its home turf, Dakshina Kannada and Udupi, has been the main contributory factor for its embarrassment. It lost three seats out of the eleven held by it last time in these districts, which happens to be same margin by which it has missed the majority mark.

The post poll scenario as desired by the collective wisdom of the voter was thus clear.

Only the BJP could form the government with the help of independents, which is precisely what has been done now. And the Congress (80) and the JDS (28) did not have the requisite numbers on their side to even harbour thoughts of cobbling up a coalition or of upsetting the present government.

Whether they like it or not, the BJP and the independents have to stick together, since the collapse of the arrangement would lead to the fresh poll, a prospect dreaded by all the parties and the MLAs put together. Herein lies the safety clause, which should give durability to the present political arrangement worked out.

The only inference one could draw by the Congress making a gain of 15 seats is that the electorate has softened its attitude towards the party and has preferred the Congress wherever it has given short shrift to the JDS in the old Mysore area in general and the first phase of polling in particular.

In the case of the JDS, the message is quite clear. The electorate has punished the party for its treacherous role in the destabilisation of the two coalition governments in the past and the political tantrums thrown by it have cost a loss of 30 seats out of the 58 it had earlier.

However, at the end of the day, it is not the distribution of seats which evokes interest but the manner in which the votes have been shared reveals another curious facet of the current elections.

Out of the total of 261.56 lakh voters who exercised their franchise, the Congress got 90.48 lakhs, followed by 88.57 lakhs for the BJP, 50 lakhs for the Janata Dal, and the others including the independents, none of whom was able to reach the victory tape, accounted for the remaining 32.49 lakh votes.

The gain for the BJP was around 17 lakhs, the Congress gained 2 lakhs, and the JDS lost by equal margin.

The gain by 17.39 lakhs, helped the BJP close the yawning gap that stood between it and the Congress at the hustings. The gap was around 45 lakhs in 1999 (Cong 90.77 lakhs, BJP 45.98 lakhs). It came down to 35 lakhs in 2004 (Cong 88.61 lakhs, BJP 71.18 lakhs). And it is less than 2 lakhs now (Cong 90.48 lakhs, BJP 88.57 lakhs).

Going by the trend, the BJP may be able to overtake Congress on the next occasion, which may have a bearing on the outcome of the parliament elections, where the political affliliation rather than the stature of the candidates rule the roost.

There was an addition of 15 lakhs to the voters list this time, with the electorate going up from 385.86 lakhs to 400.10 lakhs this time and the polled votes went from 251.29 lakh votes to 261.56 lakh votes.

Since none of the new voters would have missed the opportunity of casting the votes, one could safely assume that all have voted and all of them must have plumped for the BJP only.

The Congress gained around two lakh votes, with the vote share moving up from 88.61 lakhs to 90.48 lakhs. Despite the gain, the Congress could only regain the mark of 90.77 lakhs of 1999, from which it had slipped subsequently.

Since the JDS had lost the ground by around 2 lakhs, it can be safely assumed that it benefited the Congress, since the party made gains in the Old Mysore area in the first phase of polling.

JDS was unable to get a single additional vote this time. As a matter of fact it had lost the ground to the extent of 2.20 lakhs between the two elections, with the total votes going down from 52.20 lakhs in 2004 to 50.00 lakhs this time. It is precisely this factor which spoilt Deve Gowda‘s desire of playing a pivotal role in the formation of the government this time.

Who says that the Karnataka voters are dumb? They have enough political sagacity to see through the political game and make their own independent decision.