The conversations about who will form the next government in Karnataka are mostly confined to the major political parties. Will it be the Congress that will retain power or will the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) come to power by forming a coalition government with the Janata Dal (Secular) (JD(S))?
However, let's not forget the small political parties, which might not have the power to form the government, or win a large number of seats or votes, but can certainly play spoilsport for the big political parties.
In the 2013 elections, two smaller parties – the Karnataka Janata Paksha and the Badavara Shramikara Raitara Congress – that peeled out the BJP, had hurt its prospects. The Karnataka Janata Paksha, led by BS Yeddyurappa, and the BSR Congress, led by B Sriramulu, along with smaller parties, had collectively garnered about 15 percent of the vote share. This played to the Congress’ advantage.
Although these two parties merged in 2018, other small parties threaten to eat into the vote bank, and this time instead of the BJP, it is the Congress who is fearing them. In Karnataka, even a difference of 1,000-1,500 votes changes the fate of candidates, making it difficult for the main political parties to dismiss the smaller ones.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)
For the Congress in Karnataka, Dalits have been one of the strongest votebanks. Even Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s AHIDA strategy (Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits) heavily depends on the Dalit votes.
Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has a diminishing vote share in the state. In 2004, the BSP got 1.74 percent of the vote share in Karnataka, but by the 2008 elections, they increased their share to 2.74 percent. By 2013, the vote share fell to 0.91 percent.
However, when the JD(S) joined hands with the BSP, one of their aims was to eat into the Congress’ Dalit votebank.
Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI)
Even before the elections were announced in Karnataka, there were allegations of the Congress holding talks with the SDPI. The party, which is the political arm of the Popular Front of India (PFI), has a strong presence in the coastal Karnataka region.
Ground reports suggest that the BJP, with its Hindutva card, is in a strong position in the coastal Karnataka region. This makes every Muslim vote from the region critical for the Congress, and the fact that the SDPI holds sway over the Muslim community in the region, denies the Congress’ a large section of the Muslim vote bank.
All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM)
The Hyderabad-based AIMIM, led by Asaduddin Owaisi, had earlier announced its willingness to contest around 60 of the 224 Assembly seats in regions which include communally sensitive districts like coastal Karnataka.
This threatened to snatch away Muslim votes. In fact, in January this year, Karnataka Home Minister Ramalinga Reddy had alleged that the AIMIM and the BJP had come to a secret understanding to split the Muslim votes to help the latter in the polls.
However, to everyone’s surprise, Owaisi, on 16 April, announced that his party will not be contesting the elections, but they would instead support the JD(S). Although the party refraining from the elections gave the Congress a breather, Owaisi campaigning for the JD(S) still poses a threat to Siddaramaiah’s Muslim vote bank.
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the vote share of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was a mere 0.8 percent, and the party lost in all the 28 seats it contested from. In 2018, the AAP is fielding candidates from 18 constituencies in the state, with its main focus being Bengaluru.
Some of the major constituencies include CV Raman Nagar, BTM Layout KR Puram, which are urban areas where the voters are looking for an alternative to the Congress and BJP candidates. If not win the seat, the party hopes to get the votes of some of the fence sitters or of those who were fed up with the former governments.
All India Mahila Empowerment Party
The All India Mahila Empowerment Party (AIMEP), launched by entrepreneur Nowhera Shaikh, has announced its candidates in all 224 seats. During the announcement, Shaikh had claimed that more than 5,700 people had applied for tickets from the party. That hints at the size of the party’s voter base.
Although the AIMEP is not taken seriously by the major political parties, the Congress had alleged that the party has a partnership with the BJP to eat into the Muslim vote bank. Shaikh, however, denied these allegations.