Silent shift

Print edition : October 23, 1999

THE Congress(I) made a spectacular come-back to power in Karnataka, winning over substantial sections of its traditional vote base which it had lost to the Janata Dal in the 1994 Assembly elections. It won 133 seats in the 224-member Legislative Assembly . The BJP, which had run a very confident campaign despite being saddled with an alliance partner it did not want, won 44 seats, marking a marginal increase over its 1994 tally. Its ally, the Janata Dal (United), was all but wiped out: It won just 19 sea ts, with former Chief Minister J.H. Patel and a large number of his ministerial colleagues defeated by large margins. The Janata Dal (Secular), led by former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, fared even worse, winning just eight seats. Independent candidat es won 19 seats.

Just as the 1994 elections brought the Janata Dal to power on a massive anti-incumbency wave, these elections have demonstrated the popular rejection of the Janata Dal government. In 1994, the Janata Dal won 115 seats and 33.56 per cent of the vote share , while the Congress(I) won just 36 seats and 27.4 per cent of the vote share. Today their positions stand reversed. The recent split in the Janata Dal, with the section led by J.H. Patel seeking an alliance with the BJP in a desperate attempt to shore up its eroding base, is a factor that had a great impact on the results. The BJP-JD(U) alliance, opportunistic as it was in its timing and motive, was no compensation for a tenure of virtual non-governance, especially in the last two years, by the Janata Dal in power.

The results also demonstrated the rejection of the BJP and its divisive ideology, which it sought to downplay in these elections. The BJP campaign was built around the Kargil and Vajpayee symbols for the Lok Sabha elections and local issues for the Assem bly elections. The losses the party suffered even in constituencies that were considered 'safe' for it (Shimoga, Dharwad, Bangalore South, Mysore and the coastal constituencies) point to an erosion of its base quite independent of that in the case of its ally. The series of communal incidents that occured in small towns in some of these constituencies last year, in which members of the minority community were the victims of attacks by organisations belonging to the Sangh Parivar, could well have contrib uted to the alienation of people from the party.

Added to the poor overall performance by the BJP-JD (U) is the defeat of several prominent leaders of these parties. Among them are those who engineered cynical political alliances, those who did not meet popular expectations as Ministers, and even those , such as State BJP president B.S.Yediyurappa, who obviously held out no promise for the electorate of a constituency he thought would never desert him. Among those who lost were J.H. Patel, who contested from Channagiri in Davangere district: he lost to Vadnal Rajanna, a BJP rebel candidate, by a margin of almost 30,000 votes. The other Cabinet Ministers who lost include K.N. Nage Gowda (Kirugavalu); M.S. Patil (Raichur); G. Basavannappa (Holehunnur); K.M. Krishna Reddy (Chintamani); Anant Nag (Basavan gudi); and M.P. Prakash (Hadagali).

Also among those who lost were former Deputy Chief Minister Siddaramaiah of the JD(S) in Chamundeswari constituency in Mysore district; the president of the Karnataka Lok Shakti, Jeevraj Alva, from Jayamahal in Bangalore district; and Deve Gowda's sons, H.D. Revanna and H.D. Kumaraswamy, in Holenarasipur and Satnur Assembly constituencies respectively. For the BJP, the most stunning defeat was that of Yediyurappa in Shikaripura in Shimoga district, and those of senior leaders K.S. Eashwarappa and Premil a Nesargi in Shimoga and Chamarajpet.

Among the prominent persons who won were S.M. Krishna of the Congress(I), from Maddur; former Congress(I) Minister Y.K. Ghorpade (Sandur); P.G.R. Sindhia (Kanakapura) and B.N. Bacche Gowda (Hoskote) of the JD(U); and former Ministers Roshan Baig (Jayama hal) and Ramalinga Reddy (Jayanagar) of the Congress(I). Former Chief Secretary J. Alexander, who had a controversial record in office, won on the Congress(I) ticket from Shantinagar in Bangalore city. Suresh Kumar of the BJP won the Rajajinagar seat.

S.M. Krishna, who was elected leader of the Congress Legislative Party on October 10, paving the way for his choice as Chief Minister, feels that the verdict was a positive one and not merely the consequence of an anti-incumbency wave. He told Frontli ne: "We made capital out of the disastrous rule of the Janata Dal government of J.H. Patel, but I don't think that this played a major role. It was Sonia Gandhi's presence in Karnataka and the unity exhibited by the leadership that enthused our party workers and ensured our victory."

In the last three Assembly elections in Karnataka - 1999, 1994 and 1989 - the anti-incumbency factor was responsible for the decisive nature of the verdicts. In 1989, the Congress(I) won 178 seats with a vote share of 43.79 per cent. The Janata Dal had s plit prior to the elections after one of its periodic bouts of factionalism. Deve Gowda had left the party and joined the Samajwadi Janata Party (SJP). The Janata Dal won just 24 seats in 1989 and Deve Gowda lost in both the constituencies he contested, Holenarasipura and Hassan. The present situation is in many ways similar to the one at that time.

The 1999 elections in Karnataka followed the 1989 pattern in another respect as well. The last time the State saw elections to both the Lok Sabha and the Assembly was in 1989, and, as in 1999, the electorate voted overwhelmingly for the same party in bot h elections, and voted against the all-India trend. If the Congress(I) led in both the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in 1989, the voting pattern ran counter to the all-India trend, which was against the party. This time too the verdict in Karnataka is very much at odds with that in the rest of the country which has, by and large, given the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) the mandate to rule at the Centre.

AICC observer Ghulam Nabi Azad greeting S.M. Krishna in Bangalore.-T.L. PRABHAKAR

It is clear that in Karnataka a silent shift of the support base from the constituents of the Janata Dal to the Congress(I) has taken place, and this resulted in a sweep that surprised even the Congress(I). Kargil, the Vajpayee factor, and swadeshi versus videshi talk obviously meant nothing to the voters. People voted with their eyes on local issues, punishing individuals and parties who made promises but did not deliver on them. The voter decided that if a party is not fit to govern the State it is not fit to govern at the Centre.

The shift in the support base from the Janata Dal to the Congress(I), which will be better substantiated as more election data are available, has resulted in a considerable shift in voting patterns in some areas that were considered traditional stronghol ds of the BJP. For example, the Congress(I) has made inroads into the BJP base in the coastal belt, in Shimoga and in Bangalore city. Of the 24 Assembly segments that constitute the three Lok Sabha constituencies of Kanara, Udupi and Mangalore, the Congr ess(I) won 15 seats and the BJP seven. In Shimoga, the Congress(I) won six Assembly seats and the BJP only one. And in Bangalore city (North and South), the Congress(I) won 10 out of 16 Assembly seats whereas the BJP won only four. This happened despite the fact that the Congress(I) did not really run a coherent and well-planned election campaign. The party in fact ran a defensive campaign, which responded to issues raised by the BJP. For the Congress(I), the focus was Bellary, and all senior leaders we re personally involved, at one level or another, in ensuring the victory of party president Sonia Gandhi.

To what extent the alliance of the BJP with the JD(U) transferred the anti-incumbency vote from the BJP kitty to that of the Congress(I) can be fully understood only when the details of the voting patterns are available. The alliance with the JD(U), whic h was forced upon the local BJP unit, came into operation only a day before the last date for the withdrawal of nominations. There was in fact no alliance on the ground. In almost 50 constituencies, BJP and JD(U) candidates fought each other; in a number of constituencies the committed BJP cadre did not work for the non-BJP candidate. Unlike in 1998, when Lok Shakti and BJP leaders conducted a joint campaign, this time there was no such show of unity even at the leadership level. In fact, resentments an d accusations were openly expressed by leaders of the JD(U) and the BJP.

In its post-mortem of these elections, the BJP State unit will surely make the JD(U) the scapegoat for its own unexpectedly poor performance. It has already started to do so. Would the BJP have done better without the alliance, or would it have done even worse? The fact that there has been a significant erosion of its support in its traditional strongholds suggests that the blame for the BJP's losses cannot be laid entirely at the door of the JD(U). Veteran leaders of the BJP were defeated in these elec tions, and the reasons surely go beyond the alliance.

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