Messages from the States

Print edition : March 21, 1998
PARVATHI MENON

Total seats 28Bharatiya Janata Party 13Lok Shakti 3Congress(I) 9Janata Dal 3

THE impressive performance of the Bharatiya Janata Party-Lok Shakti alliance, which won 16 of the 28 seats in Karnataka, is the most striking feature of the election verdict in the State. The near-total rout of the Janata Dal - down to three seats from 16 in 1996 - came as less of a surprise. The BJP alliance capitalised on a strong anti-incumbency wave against the ruling Janata Dal. The Congress(I), with its tally of nine seats (against the five that it won in 1996), did not gain to the extent it hoped to from the 'Sonia factor'.

Among the notable winners are former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, with a margin of about 30,000 votes in Hassan; former Union Minister R.L. Jalappa in Chickaballapur on the Congress(I) ticket; C.K. Jaffer Sharief of the Congress(I), in Bangalore North and BJP all-India secretary Ananth Kumar, in Bangalore South. Former Congress(I) Chief Ministers M. Veerappa Moily and S. Bangarappa lost in Chickmagalur and Shimoga respectively; former Union Ministers and Congress(I) candidates Margaret Alva, B. Shankaranand and Janardhana Poojary, lost in Kanara, Chikkodi and Mangalore respectively; Congress(I) general Secretary Oscar Fernandes lost in Udupi; and Deve Gowda's son and former MP H.D. Kumaraswamy, was decisively defeated in Kanakapura.

Preliminary calculations of the vote percentage of the three political formations show that the Congress(I) secured 35.81 per cent of the votes polled (up from 30.29 per cent in 1996) and the Janata Dal 21.63 per cent (down by 13.28 percentage points from the 34.91 per cent it polled in 1996). Although the Lok Shakti won only three seats, quantitative confirmation of the 'Lok Shakti factor' in the BJP's victory comes from the fact that the Lok Shakti secured 11.49 per cent of the popular vote. Added to the BJP's share of 26.89 per cent, this gave the alliance 38.38 per cent of the popular vote. In 1996 the Janata Dal won 16 seats, and got 34.91 percent of the popular vote. In 1998 the BJP alliance won the same number of seats, but got 38.38 per cent of the popular vote. This suggests that the margins of victory of the BJP alliance were much higher in these elections as compared to those of the Janata Dal in 1996.

There are several reasons for the dramatic improvement in the BJP's performance, from six seats in 1996 to 13 now. The first is the definite electoral edge that the Lok Shakti provided the party: indeed, the gains from the alliance were more the BJP's than the Lok Shakti's. Ramakrishna Hegde was undoubtedly the BJP's star campaigner in Karnataka, after A.B. Vajpayee. Hegde gave stature and credibility to the BJP's campaign, which helped the party divorce, for the purposes of the campaign, its Hindutva agenda from the slogan of an "able Prime Minister and a stable government".

Lok Shakti leader Ramakrishna Hegde being interviewed by a private television channel in Bangalore after the election results were announced.-T.L. PRABHAKAR

However, an analysis of the BJP vote suggests that the Hegde factor may not have been the primary reason for the BJP's good showing. Of the 13 seats that the BJP won, five were seats it won in 1996; five others - Udipi, Shimoga, Belgaum, Gulbarga and Tumkur - were seats it lost by narrow margins in 1996. The remaining three seats - Mysore, Kanakapura and Chickmagalur - are constituencies where Hegde does not have much of a base. Political scientist and election analyst Sandeep Shastry told Frontline: "This pattern of voting suggests that the Hegde factor was one but not the main reason for the BJP's performance. There was a strong anti-incumbency factor working against the Janata Dal, which the BJP and the Lok Shakti fully capitalised upon."

The Lok Shakti won only three of the 10 seats it contested; all of them are in north Karnataka, which has traditionally been Hegde's base. In the remaining seven seats it is the Congress(I) that won.

The Janata Dal went into these elections as a disunited party riven by personality differences. Deve Gowda's style of party management created a groundswell of resentment both inside and outside the party. Added to this was the poor record of governance of the J.H. Patel Ministry. Under these circumstances the BJP's slogan was well received.

The BJP's party machinery converted popular disenchantment with the Janata Dal regime into support for itself. The Congress(I) could not capitalise on it, despite Sonia Gandhi's campaigning. Had the Congress(I) in Karnataka had a stronger leadership base, as in Andhra Pradesh or Maharashtra, for example, the Sonia factor might have made a greater impact.

An analysis of the constituency-wise losses and gains in terms of vote percentage for each party between the 1996 and 1998 elections shows that in 15 constituencies the Janata Dal's vote share declined by between 10 and 20 percentage points since 1996; on the other hand, the BJP's vote share increased by between 10 and 20 percentage points in 10 constituencies. The Congress(I) gained between 5 and 10 percentage points in 11 constituencies.

The election verdict has raised questions about the future of the J.H. Patel Government, with both the BJP and the Congress(I) calling for the dissolution of the Assembly on the grounds that the Ministry had lost popular support. J.H Patel accepted moral responsibility for the defeat of his party but refused to resign. The voting on the Governor's address, when the Assembly convenes on March 9, would be the test of his support, he said. He attributed the party's defeat to infighting in the party and said the Janata Dal never seemed to learn from its mistakes.

Differences have already emerged in the BJP-Lok Shakti alliance on the stand to be taken vis-a-vis the Patel Government. While the BJP demanded the dissolution of the Assembly, Hegde is of the view that the Governor should consult all parties before taking such a decision.

The Lok Shakti obviously hopes that if a sizable number of Janata Dal MLAs joins Hegde's party, a Lok Shakti government supported by the BJP could become a distinct possibility.

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