Battle for control of south

The BJP’s victory march will be incomplete without conquering the south. The only southern state where the party stands a real chance of forming the government on its own is Karnataka where elections are to be held in another four months.

Unlike other states, the Congress looks to be in a good position to give a tough fight to the BJP which is looking to come back to power in Karnataka – it had lost the 2013 assembly polls. A pre-poll survey held six months ago predicted victory for the Congress but the latest round of opinion polls give the BJP an edge.

Poll surveys

A survey conducted by C-Voter in July-August last year predicted that the Congress would win around 120-132 seats in the 224-member assembly. But a pre-poll survey conducted by Survarna News last month claimed that neither the Congress nor the BJP would be able to form the government on their own. The survey gave 88 seats to the Congress and 82 to the BJP with the Janata Dal (S) coming third with 43 seats.

Another survey conducted in September claimed that the BJP would win 113 seats to get a simple majority. The poll survey, by the Creative Center for Political and Social Studies gave the ruling Congress 85 and the Janata Dal (S) 25.

The survey said that the Congress will dominate the Old Mysuru region winning 21 out of 31 seats and in the Bengaluru region, it will win 16 out of 32 seats. The BJP will win the major share in coastal Karnataka and the Mumbai-Karnataka regions. The battle is said to be tough in Central Karn­ataka where the contest is said to be even.

As the surveys show, all three possibilities are very much a reality in Karnataka as the parties still have around four months to tilt the balance in their favour. The Congress had benefitted from infighting in the BJP in 2013 when B S Yeddyurappa broke the saffron party forming the Karnataka Janata Dal. Yeddyurappa is now leading the BJP battle and promises to 

defeat Congress chief minister Siddaramaiah.

Karnataka polls

The BJP is hoping that the recent victories in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity will give a definite edge over the Congress which is also battling anti-incumbency. Over the years, the party has been able to expand its base in the state at the grass roots level and its leadership has managed to keep a connect with voters despite being in opposition. But, unlike other states, even the Congress has a strong presence in the state. Chief minister Siddaramaiah is a powerful orator and the Congress party’s trump card in countering prime minister Modi’s communication skills.

In 2013, the Congress had comprehensively defeated the BJP in the Old Mysuru region winning 30 of 64 seats. The BJP could get only four seats there while the Janata Dal (S) got 25. In the Bengaluru city region, both the Congress and the BJP were placed almost equally. The Congress won 13 out of the 28 seats and the BJP 12. In Hyderabad-Karnataka also, the Congress completely whitewashed the BJP winning 23 out of 40 seats. The story was similar in Bombay-Karnataka where the Congress won 31 out of 50 seats. The Congress also swept the coastal region as well as central Karnataka.

The caste-combination of Karn­ataka is dominated by Dalits and OBCs. While Dalits form 24 per cent of the population, OBCs form 35 per cent. The Lingayats form the most dominant forward caste, and comprise about 10 per cent of the population. The problem for the BJP is that its five-year rule from 2008-13 saw three chief ministers. The allegations of corruption against Yeddyurappa also dented the party’s image.

Personality clash

Both Siddaramaiah and Yeddyurappa are tall leaders. Yeddyurappa had had quit the BJP earlier over corruption charges. The strong Lingayat leader is now making a comeback. He is up against Siddaramaiah who is known for his shrewd politics. He is matching Yeddyurappa move for move. When the BJP leader went on a Parivarthana Yatra, Siddaramaiah announced a series of projects and schemes to take the sheen out of the opposition campaign. He is banking on the support of the minorities, backward classes and Dalits.

Kerala polls

The BJP is yet to make a mark in the politics of Kerala where the RSS has been working on the ground for years. The state has become the battleground between the RSS and the Left parties particularly after the BJP went all out to make an impact in the state after forming the government at the centre. BJP is hoping to win the state at any cost. The entire BJP leadership had descended in Kerala when party president Amit Shah carried out his yatra to protest against political violence which is common in the state.

The BJP has set an ambitious target of winning 11 out of 20 Lok Sabha seats in 2019. The target looks unrealistic as the party is yet to open its account in the state. The 11 seats the BJP is concentrating on are Chalakudy, Kasargod, Kozhikode, Palakkad, Thrissur, Thiruvananthapuram, Attingal, Kollam, Mavelikara, Alapuzza, and Pathanamthitta.

The BJP had won one assembly seat when its candidate O Rajagopal won from Nemom by a margin of 8,000 votes. What bolstered the party is the fact that it won 15 per cent of the votes. The party’s vote share was 6.03 in 2011 and only 4.75 in 2006.

Gautam Datt