The original version of the article was published on 5th April 2023 in “The Daily Guardian.
Elections to the 224-member Karnataka Assembly are set to be held in May this year. With the national elections scheduled for next year, all national and regional parties are gearing up for the battle, making the results of all the Assembly polls scheduled to be held this year even more important. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wrested power away from the Indian National Congress (INC) and Janata Del (Secular) (JD(S)) combine during the 2019 political crisis in the state, despite the latter securing more seats in the 2018 polls. Given that no incumbent party has been able to continue ruling the state in the past two decades, the BJP is fighting tooth and nail to fight anti-incumbency to retain its power. The INC at the same time is formulating a campaign to ride the anti-incumbency wave against the BJP by highlighting issues such as corruption, unemployment, and water disputes. However, the BJP’s election machinery has successfully overridden anti-incumbency in both Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat in the past few months, restoring power in both states with massive mandates. Let us have a look at the major parties in fray in the state, the promises they are making to the voters, and their political track records.
2018 Assembly Elections and the 2019 Political Crisis
During the last Assembly elections in Karnataka in 2018, the INC was seeking re-election, having held power in the state since 2013. The BJP, which had governed the state before that, from 2008 to 2013, was attempting to win back power from the INC. The Janata Dal (Secular) (JD(S)), and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) contested the election in an electoral alliance during the 2018 elections. While the BJP won the most seats (104), the INC and JD(S) joined hands to form a coalition government with 118 seats.
Shortly after the 2018 Assembly polls, the state witnessed a political crisis, marred by numerous resignations of MLAs, ultimately leading to the collapse of the INC-led government. On 01st July 2019, two members of the INC submitted their resignations, and over the course of the next few days, an additional ten members of the INC and three members of the JD(S) followed suit with their resignations. The rift in the ruling parties’ alliance appeared in early 2019, when the seat-sharing agreement between the JD(S) and the INC was announced for the general elections. The BJP was able to win 25 out of the 28 seats during the Lok Sabha elections, while the INC only won one seat, aggravating the differences between the alliance members even further. Following the slew of resignations, the ruling alliance of INC-JD(S) was reduced to 99 members, while the BJP held 105 seats.
Following the weeks of turmoil, Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy lost the trust vote and resigned. B. S Yediyurappa was sworn in as Chief Minister of Karnataka on 26th July 2019. Yediyurappa also resigned from the post in July 2021, amidst growing dissent within the party against him and corruption allegations. While tendering his resignation, Yediyurappa claimed he decided to resign on his own without any pressure from anyone in the party and wanted someone else to take charge of the party in the state. Following his resignation, Basavaraj Bommai was sworn in as the new Chief Minister on 28th July 2021.
What is being promised to Karnataka voters in 2023?
The BJP, which is fighting to retain power in the state, has set a target to win at least 150 out of the 224 seats in the Karnataka State Assembly. As per media reports, party functionaries have identified the Old Mysore and Kalyan regions as areas where it will increase its vote bank by denting the JD(S)’s vote bank. Although the party seems to be relying on the caste equations in the state to engineer its strategy, the party state in-charge Arun Singh said the development work undertaken by the party in the state will help them secure their victory. They have not yet released their manifesto, but they plan to release an “action taken report” during the upcoming state budget, which will detail the fulfilment of promises made by them during the 2018 Assembly polls. The party has also made it clear that it will not be forging an alliance with any other parties for the elections.
Similarly, the INC, which lost power of the state despite winning the 2018 elections, announced a tenpoint manifesto last week focusing on job creation, attracting investments, and developing tourism in the coastal region ahead of the polls. Other promises by the party included a Rs 2,000 monthly allowance to female heads of households, 200 units of free power, ten kilograms of free rice to those from poor households, among other things. Party General Secretary, Randeep Sujrewala, said the BJP has been focusing on communalism issues and ignoring the real problems of economic development in the state. The party will be undertaking its campaign in the state in two phases. In the first phase, Siddaramaiah will campaign in Uttara Karnataka and Hyderabad, and DK Shivakumar will be in the old Mysore region. In the second phase, the former will cover Dakshina Kannada, while the latter will campaign in Uttara Karnataka.
The JD(S), which won only 37 seats in the 2018 polls, kickstarted its campaign in the state in November 2022. The party has dominated the Old Mysore region, which has the highest population of dominant Vokkaligas. The party started its campaign in the state from the Old Mysore region through the Pancharatna Yatra a road campaign from Mulbagal
in Kolar district. Former Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy, promised to implement the Pancharatna Plan — a five-fold scheme focusing on free education, healthcare, housing, farmers’ welfare, and employment. The party has also said it has set its target of ‘Mission 123’ — to independently form a government by winning at least 123 seats out of 224 seats in the state.
What are the major issues on voters’ minds?
Karnataka is not only one of the largest states in south India, but is also considered an economic powerhouse due to the presence of the technological sector in the state. All parties are keen on highlighting various issues rampant in the state to help further their electoral narrative. The INC is keen on highlighting the issue of corruption in the state. Earlier this month, the working president of the Karnataka Contractors’ Association, Manjunath, alleged that he paid Rs 90 lakh as bribe between 2019–2022 to Chitradurga BJP MLA Thippa Reddy. Corruption of state authorities has been a well-known issue in the state, and a contractor Santosh Patil, who had accused minister KS Eshwarappa of corruption and asking for 40 per cent commission for a government project, was also found dead in a lodge in Udupi city in April last year. While the INC is focusing on corruption allegations to highlight the incompetence of the BJP government in the state, the BJP is banking on an infrastructure push to win power and develop its pro-development identity.
In January 2023, Prime Minister Modi laid foundation stones and inaugurated projects related to irrigation, drinking water, and road development, valued at Rs 10,800 crore in the state. The Prime Minister is likely to visit Karnataka on at least four occasions in February to hold rallies. He also laid the foundation stone for two greenfield highway development projects in Karnataka, which are part of the Surat-Chennai expressway. While other issues such as inflation, economic growth, and job creation are being highlighted by parties, it is very likely that the fate of the 2023 polls will depend on the social engineering formulas of the parties. As of now, the upcoming polls seem to be an equal tussle between both the BJP and the INC, with the JD(S) also having control over a significant vote bank in the state.
Shreya Maskara/New Delhi
Contributing reports by Ratika Khanna, Neha Rai, Anurag Dubey, and
Pragya Prama, Researchers at Polstrat.
From Polstrat, a non-partisan political consultancy which aims to shift the narrative of political discourse in the country from a problem-centric to a solutions-oriented approach.