The Karnataka assembly election is a three-cornered battle between the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party and Janata Dal (Secular). The race is to get to a majority of 113 seats in the 224-member assembly. All three parties have been in power at some point in the last over 15 years, either in alliance with each other or on their own.
1. Exit Polls Predict Hung Assembly, BJP Leading
At least four of five exit poll surveys showed the Bharatiya Janata Party in pole position but short of a full majority of 113 seats. Of the five exit polls BloombergQuint looked at, four – Times Now-VMR, NewsX-CNX, ABP News-CVoter and Republic-Jan Ki Baat – showed BJP in the lead. Only India Today-Axis My India predicted that the Congress will remain in power in Karnataka, with a seat 106-118 seat share.
2. Recent Political History
In the previous 2013 state election, the Congress won 122 seats, and the BJP won 40, the same as the JD(S). The BJP’s tally in 2013 was a sharp fall from 2008 – when it formed the government with 110 seats and the support of a few outsiders. In 2013, BS Yeddyurappa, the BJP’s biggest Lingayat leader by a distance, and mining baron Reddy brothers with their associates, contested separately from the BJP cutting into the party’s votes.
3. The Chief Ministerial Aspirants
Incumbent Chief Minister Siddaramaiah of the Congress is contesting from two seats, one from the Belagavi region, and another from his stronghold in the Mysuru region. In Badami in the north, Siddaramaiah was on the ballot against BJP strongman B Sriramulu, who is a close aide of mining baron G Janardhana Reddy.
Siddaramaiah is also contesting from Chamundeswari, in Mysuru, a seat that he has won five times. But here the Janata Dal (Secular) has fielded sitting legislator GT Devegowda, a prominent leader from the Vokkaliga community which holds sway in the Mysuru region. To ensure that the anti-Siddaramaiah votes don’t get split - the BJP has fielded a relatively-unknown candidate in Chamundeshwari.
The BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, BS Yeddyurappa, is contesting from his home turf of Shikaripura in Shivamogga district—a seat he has won seven times. The JD(S) candidate here is HT Baligar, a fellow-Lingayat. The Congress has fielded a relatively unknown candidate, GB Malathesh.
HD Kumaraswamy of the JD(S) is contesting from two adjoining constituencies of Channapatna and Ramanagaram in south Karnataka. Ramanagaram is considered Kumaraswamy’s stronghold where he boasts of a hat-trick of electoral wins. In Channapatna - Kumaraswamy faces a tougher fight. He’s up against the sitting BJP candidate YP Yogeshwar, and the state’s transport minister HM Revanna from the Congress.
4. Burden Of Incumbency
To retain power, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah will also have to break a 30-year trend that Karnataka shares with Kerala – of not giving a government a second full mandate. Power in Karnataka has been a see-saw that’s swung every 4-5 years. 1985 is the last time a party in the state won a majority for the second election in a row.
5. The Key Issues
The election campaign did not throw up a single dominant issue. But a key theme that all three parties put on centrestage is the issue of ‘Kannada Pride’. First floated by incumbent Chief Minister Sidaramaiah, it is seen as a counter to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s nationalism pitch.
With 2,729 farmers having committed suicide in the state between 2014 and 2016, election manifestos of both the BJP and the Congress focused on the farming community.
The shortage of water in the state is another big issue. According to the 2011 census, water demand in Bengaluru alone was about 18 thousand million cubic feet of water for a population of about 8.5 million, but the shortfall was 5.8 TMCs. By 2031, the shortfall is expected to grow to 10.7 TMCs.
6. Economic Indicators: Karnataka Versus Peers
Karnataka’s economy is as large as oil-rich Qatar, riding on the growth of software services. At 10 percent, it’s the third-highest contributor to India’s gross domestic product of $2.3 trillion after Maharashtra and Gujarat.
The Congress has been busy flaunting the ‘Karnataka Model’ of governance as an alternative to Modi’s ‘Gujarat Model’ to woo voters. The BJP focused on corruption that it claims is prevalent widely in the state.
Also Read: In Charts: Karnataka’s Economy Vs Peers
7. Social Indicators: How Karnataka Fares
When pegged against other large Indian states – Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Kerala – Karnataka still lags behind on some socio-economic indicators, according to data compiled by BloombergQuint. Only three-fourths of Karnataka’s population is literate. That’s the lowest rate among the five states used for this comparison.
Karnataka’s healthcare spending as a share of its total expenditure is lower than that of Gujarat, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
8. What Bengaluru Wants
With 28 out of 224 seats, Karnataka’s capital city may not make or break this election, but infrastructure and other woes could make it difficult for the incumbent Congress government to convince voters that enough has been done.
Bengaluru has had to contend with issues like traffic congestion, waste management, polluted lakes, poor mobility and shrinking water levels. The city was on the list of the top 10 metros worldwide that are fast moving towards ‘Day Zero’ — when taps start running dry, according to a report by the Centre for Science and Environment.
As many as 262 water bodies existed in the city till 1960s, rapid urbanisation has brought down their number to about 80, of which only 34 are recognised as live lakes, according to state government data.
9. The Farmers’ Pulse
Farmers in Karnataka say that they have a few pressing issues that need to be urgently resolved. Their major demands are these: Loan waivers, low interest rates for loans, higher minimum support price, better irrigation methods, and a solution to water scarcity.
The Cauvery issue has also been a major bone of contention polarising Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. For decades, the two states have been fighting over timelines, frequency, and quantity of water to be released.
The Siddaramaiah government had announced a crop loan waiver of Rs 50,000 for every farmer. The Chief Minister claimed Rs 8,165 crore were waived for 22,27,506 farmers across Karnataka. But farmers say that is simply not enough, as they have taken loans of Rs 3-6 lakh and with failing crops and exorbitant interest rates, they have become impossible to repay.
10. Setting The Tone For 2019
With 28 parliamentary seats, Karnataka is the largest state that Congress is still in power. If the party is voted out, then the BJP’s slogan of a ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’ (Congress-free India) moves a step closer to reality. A return to power in the state will cement the Congress’ claim that it’s the only viable opposition to take on the BJP. That would also place Gandhi in a comfortable position to claim leadership of an anti-BJP coalition before 2019.
Karnataka is also the only southern state where the BJP has had a full-term government. For an ever-expanding and ambitious BJP, it’s the gateway to the south, and Karnataka offers it the best chance to win in the region.