Sway in Lingayat land

Print edition : May 31, 2013

IN 2008, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had won 55 of the 90 Assembly seats in the north Karnataka region. The politically strong Lingayat community, which is predominant in the region, had supported the BJP then. The Congress has managed to radically reverse the situation now by doubling its tally, from 27 to 54. The party also benefited from the consolidation of the Muslim, Dalit and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) votes in its favour. Among the factors that helped the Congress make inroads into the region are the split in the Lingayat votes between the BJP, the Congress, and B.S. Yeddyurappa’s Karnataka Janatha Paksha (KJP) and to a lesser extent, B. Sriramulu’s Badavara Shramikara Raitara (BSR) Congress.

Prof. James Manor of the School of Advanced Study, University of London, has studied the Karnataka elections for the past 40 years. According to him, the “...inept and corrupt ways of Yeddyurappa” when he was Chief Minister damaged the BJP. “He had two main aims in this election: one, vengeance against the BJP, and two, to win enough seats to get help with his criminal cases. He succeeded with the first but failed with the second.”

In more than 36 constituencies, e KJP candidates have won the second place after the Congress. In 35 seats, they have emerged third after the Congress and BJP candidates but polled enough votes to spoil the chances of the BJP. The KJP could win only six seats but Yeddyurappa will probably take solace from the fact that he has demonstrated his indispensability to the BJP.

The three-way split in the Lingayat vote is evident in districts such as Belgaum, Bagalkot, Yadgir, Bidar, Dharwad, Koppal, Haveri, Davanagere, Shimoga, Tumkur and even the coastal Uttar Kannada. In addition, the BSR Congress has caused sufficient damage to the BJP in many of these districts, notably Raichur, Bellary, Belgaum, Bagalkot, Yadgir, and Bidar.

For instance, in 2008, the BJP won all the seven seats in Bagalkot. This time it has retained only one seat, leaving the rest to the Congress. In Dharwad district, where the BJP won six of the seven seats in 2008, the party managed to retain only two seats, of which one (Hubli-Dharwar Central) is the incumbent Chief Minister Jagaish Shettar’s. Had the BJP remained undivided, it could have won an additional 44 seats (including the 10 seats won by the KJP and the BSR) across the State—17 in Hyderabad-Karnataka, 13 in Mumbai-Karnataka, two in the coastal region and four each in the Malnad, Central and Old Mysore areas.

Highlighting the BJP’s double whammy are seats such as Basavakalayan in Bidar. Here, while the JD(S) won the seat with 37,494 votes, defeating the Congress nominee who polled 21,601 votes. The BJP secured 17,431 votes, the KJP 17,965, and the BSR Congress 18,214 votes. The pattern is similar in Yadgir, where the Congress got 40,000 votes, the KJP 31,000, the BSR Congress 12,000, and the BJP 3.500. Together they could have trounced the Congress.

In Bellary, the BSR Congress spoilt the comprehensive win that the BJP had managed to effect in 2008 when it won eight of the nine seats in the district. The BSR Congress also spoilt the BJP’s chances in several seats in the adjoining Raichur district. The 2008 elections were the apogee of the Reddy brothers’ political strength and the district was flush with money. In this election, the administration paid special attention to restricting the flow of money. While the BSR Congress managed to win only two seats in Bellary, the BJP could win only one this time.

In the Bombay–Karnataka region, of the 18 seats in Belgaum, the BJP won eight, the Congress five, independents two and the BSR Congress and the KJP one each. The BJP would have gained three seats here, if one goes by the combined votes polled by the BSR Congress, the KJP and the BJP. In Bagalkot, the BJP would have gained one seat. It would have gained two more in Bijapur where seven of the eight seats have gone to the Congress. The BJP got one. In Dharwad, the BJP would have gained three seats whereas in Gadag and Haveri it would have gained one and three seats respectively. Taking all these figures into account, it becomes clear that the BJP could have gained 13 seats in Bombay-Karnataka had it avoided a split.

In Hyderabad-Karnataka, the BJP would have gained three seats in Gulbarga, (the Congress has won seven seats, the KJP one and the BJP one); in Bidar, the party would have got three seats but it managed to win only one; in Yadgir, it could have added two seats to its kitty; in Raichur it could have won four more seats (the BJP has won one seat, the Congress four and the JD(S) two; in Koppal two and in Bellary, where the BSR Congress ate into its votes, the BJP could have won three. This is the region where the three-way split in the BJP has hit the party the hardest. It could have gained 17 seats if it had contested on a united platform.

The split has also affected the BJP’s prospects in coastal Karnataka (where it could have won two seats); Malnad (the party could have got four seats in Shimoga, which is Yeddyurappa’s home ground); central Karnataka (the party could have easily won one seat in Chitradurga and four in Davanagere); and the Old Mysore region (where the BJP could have gained four more seats).

The only place where the split does not seem to have made an impact is in the 28 seats in the Bangalore Rural and Bangalore Urban districts. In Bangalore, the BJP’s tally fell from 17 seats in 2008 to 12 while the Congress increased its tally to 13 seats.

The Janata Dal (Secular) remains rooted in the Old Mysore region. It managed to win six seats in north Karnataka, one less than its 2008 tally. While the party can congratulate itself on increasing its vote share and slightly surprising political pundits with its overall tally, it needs to overcome its image as a party of south Karnataka and Vokkaliga if it wants to expand its influence across the State. Most of the constituencies in the Old Mysore region witnessed straight fights between the Congress and the JD(S). The BJP has a small presence here. Prof. Manor attributes the JD(S)’ continued dominance in the region to its “...shrewd, very carefully organised campaign appealing not just to Vokkaligas but to Muslims and others”.

Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed

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