What the world’s most famous Karnataka watcher sees in the coming elections

Prof. James Manor_0_0

Professor James Manor of the School of Advanced Study, University of London, has been tracking politics in Karnataka for 48 years—and counting.

Renowned as the man who knows more about Karnataka politics than most Kannadigas, Prof Manor has a long piece in the latest issue of the Economic & Political Weekly on the forthcoming elections to the legislative assembly in the State.

These are the salient points he makes:

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# No state government has been re-elected in Karnataka since 1985 despite some of the six governments in the last 32 years performing reasonably well. Incumbent chief minister Siddaramaiah is up against history.

# Congress outperformed its rivals in the 2016 zilla panchayat elections, coming first or second in 90% of the contests (against 70% for BJP). Congress gained 20 lakh more votes than the BJP.

# An opinion poll conducted by Cfore, commissioned by a TV news channel with links to the BJP, gives Congress a 43% voteshare against 32% for BJP and 17% for JDS. (An internal Congress survey gives it 90-95 seats.)

# Based on private polling, BJP President Amit Shah has informed his BJP colleagues that they would currently lose, getting about 80 seats, well short of his “Mission 150”.

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# Congress in Karnataka is not handicapped like in Haryana, where chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda was accused of diverting vast resources to cultivate a constituency for his son.

# Also, unlike in Uttar Pradesh, where Congress ally Akhilesh Yadav was accused of excessively pampering Yadavs, Siddaramaiah’s policies have “benefited a broader array of disadvantaged groups”.

# Despite prevalence of factions, Congress under Siddaramaiah is more cohesive than in 2008. Congress general secretary K.C. Venugopal, who enjoys Rahul Gandhi‘s backing, is better equipped than an “inept” in-charge like Prithviraj Chavan.

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# BJP lost in 2013 because of a three-way split which approximately cost it 36 seats: B.S. Yeddyurappa forming his own party, the KJP, took away Lingayat votes, and B. Sreeramulu launching the BSR party.

# With Yeddyurappa back in the BJP, Lingayat votes could return to the party, but Siddaramaiah and his ministers are hoping the Veerashaiva/Lingayat debate on a separate religion will eat into the Lingayat base of the BJP.

# “BJP is struggling to find a winning election narrative”. Many in BJP resent the party’s choice of Yeddyurappa as chief ministerial candidate, and Yeddyurappa’s main adversaries are said to be in the BJP itself, not Congress.

# The choice of Prakash Javadekar as the BJP in-charge of Karnataka is a sore point with Yeddyurappa, who believes the man from Poona has little experience in election management and has mainly got the job because of his RSS links.

# BJP’s organisational strength is mostly on the coast and large urban centres, and does not have the same penetration in rural constituencies. Unlike in North, BJP will find it difficult to use RSS cadres in Karnataka due to the language barrier.

# Narendra Modi‘s campaign speeches is the great imponderable but Siddaramaiah will do what Ramakrishna Hegde did to Rajiv Gandhi: which is remind voters that the PM will not be the next chief minister. In 1985, nine weeks after Congress had swept the Lok Sabha elections, Janata Dal 105 out of 224 seats in Karnataka.

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# BJP leaders in Karnataka feel that Amit Shah‘s key campaign themes—the state government’s alleged misuse of central government funds; the massive corruption it has indulged in; and communal polarisation—is an “unpromising agenda”.

# Having presented 15 state budgets, Siddaramaiah is rather adroit at explaining quantitative data in compelling terms to tear apart the BJP’s claim about the misuse of funds with persuasive rebuttals.

# Two surveys, in 2010 and 2017, show that citizens in Karnataka have “experienced corruption in accessing public services” but Yeddyurappa carries the ignominy of being the first CM to be jailed in office.

# Communal polarisation as an electoral strategy lacks promise except on the coast and in minor pockets, and pushing “hard Hindutva” can backfire as it did in the last election, which is why Yeddyurappa is not keen to harp on it.

# Half of the (mainly Hindu) Karnataka respondents in a Lokniti survey reported having a Muslim as a close friend as compared to only one-third respondents in other states. “Fewer respondents in Karnataka than elsewhere believe that Hindus are more patriotic than minorities, or that Muslims are mostly violent.”

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# JDS, which won 40 seats in 2013 and is hoping to get between 35-40 this time, can at best hope to be kingmaker but is up against Siddaramaiah in his home-region. Raids on D.K. Shivakumar could create a sympathy wave among Vokkaligas, JDS’s core constituents.

# Recent by-elections show that Congress can defeat the BJP even in a constituency where Lingayats have a dominant presence. “Siddaramaiah’s pro-poor policies appear, against initial expectations, to have attracted significant Dalit support.”

# 79% of respondents in a 2017 survey said the ‘Anna Bhagya’ scheme, which provides rice at heavily subsidised prices, was the best government scheme—indicating approval for it far beyond the groups who gain from it.

# Lokniti’s 2017 survey found that 96% of respondents were aware of government programmes. This figure was higher than that in Gujarat, Haryana and Odisha, although the average across all four was 90%.

#  18% respondents were “extremely satisfied” and 53% were “somewhat satisfied” against 29% who were “not satisfied”, in the Cfore survey. 44% said that Siddaramaiah’s government was “functioning better,” compared to 28% who named the previous BJP government and 18% who pointed to an earlier JDS government.

# Siddaramaiah has grabbed the sub-nationalistic issues of flag, anthem, language from the BJP. “These issues conveniently dovetail with Siddaramaiah’s frequent arguments that New Delhi has treated Karnataka unfairly over river waters, and by providing fewer funds than the state deserves under Finance Commission rules.”

Photograph: courtesy Deccan Chronicle