Congress(I) dominates in all regions

Print edition : November 06, 1999

THE 1999 elections marked a comeback for the Congress(I) in all regions of Karnataka. The party avenged its humiliating defeat in the 1994 Assembly elections, when it was relegated to the third position. Although it recovered some of the ground in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, it finished only second, way behind the Bharatiya Janata Party-Lok Shakti combine. This time the Congress(I) snatched 10 seats from the BJP and the Lok Shakti and two from the Janata Dal, and conceded two of its seats to the BJP and one to the Janata Dal (United). Surprisingly, no pollster anticipated the massive nine-percentage-point swing of votes in favour of the Congress(I). Despite a near-perfect seat adjustment for the Lok Sabha elections, the half-hearted BJP-JD(U) alliance lost more than eight percentage points of the popular vote that had gone to the BJP-Lok Shakti alliance last year. Clearly, the addition of the Janata Dal faction led by J.H. Patel brought nothing but discredit to the alliance. The Janata Dal (Secular), led by former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda drew a blank: its leaders faced humiliating defeats. However, with more than 10 per cent of the vote share, it remains a force capable of acting as a spoiler.

The Congress(I) showed its dominance in all the regions including the coastal districts, which had emerged as BJP strongholds in the 1990s. In the Bombay-Karnatak region in the north, where Lingayats were expected to support the BJP-led alliance, the Congress(I) got the same share of votes and seats as its main rival. While Sonia Gandhi's candidature may not have changed the verdict in the entire State, it seems to have had some effect in Hyderabad-Karnatak. The voter turnout jumped by nearly seven percentage points and the Congress(I) registered a 12.7 per cent swing in its favour. The Congress(I) won the majority of the Assembly seats in all the districts except Bidar, where communal polarisation may have worked against it. As in its heyday, the Congress(I) has its vote spread more or less evenly across the State, while the BJP-JD(U) combine has weakened in Hyderabad-Karnatak and Old Mysore. It is in the largest southern region of Old Mysore that the BJP alliance suffered its worst loss - four seats and 15 percentage points of its vote share. Despite a spectacular entry into the electoral arena in 1991, the BJP remains a marginal political force, with the rural constituencies continuing to elude it.

The Assembly elections confirmed the dominance of the Congress(I) in all the regions. The most spectacular are the party's gains in the Old Mysore region, where its position improved from 10 seats in 1994 to 61 seats, mostly at the cost of the undivided Janata Dal. Overall, the Congress(I) snatched 69 seats from the undivided Janata Dal and 17 from the BJP. While the BJP made marginal gains elsewhere, it lost seven seats in the coastal region, where it first established its base in the State. It retained only 22 of the seats it won in 1994. The two Janata Dal factors have very little to show except losses. The JD(U) can take delight in the fact that it got more seats than the JD(S) even in Old Mysore.

The flow of votes as revealed by the CSDS survey shows that this turnabout happened in three ways: the Congress(I) retained much more of the 1998 vote share than the BJP-JD(U) combine; it snatched more votes from its rivals than they took from it; and the JD(U) failed to fetch for the BJP-JD (U) alliance more than half the 1998 vote share of the Janata Dal. JD(S) and the Congress(I) each succeeded in taking away one quarter of its 1998 vote, and thus sealed the fate of the BJP-JD(U) combine.

Voting simultaneously for different parties in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections is not a new phenomenon in Karnataka. Evidently, such voting did not take place on a large scale this time, but it was high compared to Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. Once again, the BJP-JD(U) alliance suffered. The two parties fought against each other in a number of Assembly constituencies and could not transfer nearly a quarter of its Assembly-level vote share to their Lok Sabha candidates. Although the alliance picked up one-third of the JD(S) vote share in the Assembly elections, that was not enough. The Congress(I) fared a little better in this regard.

The key to the Congress(I)'s success was its ability to reconstruct the classic rainbow coalition as in the days of D. Devaraj Urs. It trailed the BJP-JD(U) among Lingayats and other upper castes and the numerically insignificant Scheduled Tribes. But that was more than made up by an impressive showing among the lower castes and classes. It not only took away a handsome slice of the Janata Dal's Vokkaliga vote, but enjoyed strong support among the lower sections of the Other Backward Classes, the Scheduled Castes and Muslims.

The Congress(I) also regained some of its traditional support base. The poorer the voter, the greater the odds of a vote in favour of the Congress(I). Conversely, the BJP and its allies performed better among the richer sections. The contrast is particularly striking at the two ends of the class divide. The BJP and its allies have enjoyed a lead of 21 percentage points over the Congress(I) among the rich and the super-rich, while the Congress(I) has a whopping 47-point lead among the poorest.

A profile of the voter based on the factor of education shows that access to education accentuates the class effect. The same pattern is repeated in the gender and rural-urban divides. The edge that the Congress(I) enjoys among women and rural voters is much higher in Karnataka than in the rest of the country. The higher urban vote reported for the JD(S) appears odd; the high figure is perhaps due to a greater degree of sampling error for smaller formations. All is not well with the Congress(I), though. The age profile of voters reveals that the Congress(I) is more popular among older voters while the BJP and its allies enjoy an edge among younger voters.

ASTUDY associated with the CSDS survey and carried out by researchers at the Department of Political Science, Bangalore University, reported that the most popular choice for Chief Minister was S.M. Krishna of the Congress(I), with the support of 28 per cent of the respondents. B.S. Yediyurappa of the BJP was the choice of 26 per cent; J.H. Patel of the JD(U) was favoured by 10 per cent.

At least 54 per cent of the respondents were dissatisfied with the Janata Dal government. Also, 56 per cent felt that northern Karnataka had been neglected. Among the respondents from northern Karnataka, 84 per cent felt that the region had been neglected.

The essence of the lessons from Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka is that governance matters. The anti-incumbency factor is not a knee-jerk action, nor a foregone conclusion, but a response to the performance of people who have been handed the reins of power.

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