The seat-sharing discussions for pre-poll alliances have begun in full swing across the nation, as the dates for Lok Sabha elections near. While the BJP is going alone in Karnataka, the ruling coalition in the state, Congress and JD(S), are in talks over sharing of seats for the 28 seats. A lot of drama is expected over the same in the coming days and as it unfolds, let us take a look at how Karnataka has voted in recent past to get a perspective of what is at stake for the three parties and where they stand as of today.
While the mood of the nation has changed significantly over the last two decades, with the Congress-led UPA winning two successive elections in 2004 and 2009 and the BJP-led NDA winning the previous election propelled by a Modi wave, Karnataka has more or less given similar verdicts. (BJP: 18 in 2004, 19 in 2009 and 17 in 2014; Congress: 8 in 2004, 6 in 2009 and 9 in 2014; JD(S): 2 in 2004, 3 in 2009 and 2 in 2014).
This is because all three parties have reached an equilibrium in terms of vote-share with their settled vote-banks. This status quo can be affected only when there is drastic exodus of a vote-bank from a party, like it happened in 2013 when state BJP President and Leader of Opposition, BS Yeddyurappa, had broken away to form his own Karnataka Janata Party. Fielding a single alliance candidate can again alter this status quo and make it a very interesting election to predict.
Can contradictions in Cong-JD(S) alliance help BJP?
BJP is going into 2019 without any significant changes and hopes that the inherent contradictions in Congress-JD(S) alliance will help in continuing its strong run and hold over Karnataka. This inherent contradiction is because both parties have a traditional rivalry in Old Mysuru region of the state, where their cadre are comparable in strength and have fought against each other for years. The strategic decision taken by their top leadership to fight together may not resonate with them, when either of them are told to vacate their constituencies and extend their support for the other. It is going to be a real challenge for Congress and JD(S) to not only quell discontentment within their parties, but also to take along the disgruntled cadre and make them see the larger picture which necessitated such a contradicting alliance in the first place. Otherwise, we may well witness cross-campaigning and cross-voting in many constituencies of the region, throwing up surprise results in favour of the underdog. This is exactly what the BJP will be hoping for in its weakest region.
Congress is a key player in all constituencies. Even in its weakest constituency of Tumakuru, it has a significant vote-share and an incumbent MP. In the past, Congress has fought a direct battle for 20 seats with BJP, two seats with JD(S) and a trilateral contest in six seats.
JD(S), on the other hand, has a significant presence only in eight constituencies and all of these constituencies- Bengaluru Rural, Chikkaballapura, Chitradurga, Hassan, Kolar, Mandya, Mysuru and Tumakuru, unsurprisingly fall in the Old Mysuru region. JD(S) is going to demand at least six to eight seats from the abovementioned constituencies and Congress will have to vacate these seats as an inevitable cost for the alliance.
JD(S)’ decreased parliamentary vote share
Beyond the old Mysuru region, JD(S) has negligible presence in all but a few constituencies like Bengaluru North, Bengaluru Central, Bidar, Vijayapura, Kalburgi, Koppal, Shivamogga and Uttara Kannada. Even here, its presence is only marginal. But if it manages to consolidate its marginal vote-share and ensure complete transfer of votes to Congress in these seats, it will work in favour of the alliance and reciprocate for Congress vacating its seats in the Old Mysuru region. If it does not manage to do so, the results may become a bitter pill for Congress to swallow, a case of letting JD(S) grow at its own cost in old Mysuru while not gaining anything in return elsewhere. In other constituencies across Mumbai-Karnataka, Hyderabad-Karnataka, Coastal and Central Karnataka, it will continue to be a two-way fight between a stronger BJP and weaker Congress. BJP has held most of these seats for years and will continue to latch on to them in all probability.
JD(S) has to be pragmatic and settle with around six to seven seats among Mandya, Hassan, Mysuru, Shivamogga, Chitradurga, Bengaluru North and Tumakuru constituencies. After the deal has been sealed, it has to ensure it has its house in order, since the induction of Deve Gowda’s grandchildren, Prajwal and Nikhil, into active politics and the decision to field them as candidates, has raised many eyebrows within the party itself.
Many among those who vote for JD(S) in Assembly Elections historically vote for BJP in parliamentary elections, as can be reflected in the trend of decreased parliamentary vote shares of JD(S) when compared to its Assembly vote shares and the corresponding trend of increased parliamentary vote-shares of BJP. The disillusionment with dynastic politics can very well aggravate this trend. BJP’s narrative will be along these lines as it will understandably look to win over the disillusioned Congress and JD(S) supporters.
Congress has the twin challenge of selecting strong candidates in some seats of Mumbai-Karnataka and Hyderabad-Karnataka, where BJP is in a position of strength, and convincing its cadres in Old Mysuru region about the absolute necessity of the alliance with JD(S).
BJP looks the most sorted of the three parties at present, but there is still enough time remaining for the polls for things to change and if the alliance successfully manages to overcome its contradictions, it may well pose a challenge and weaken the position of strength that the party has been enjoying for close to fifteen years. A pragmatic prediction at this stage would be 14-16 seats for the Congress-JD(S) alliance and 12-14 seats for the BJP.
Rakshith S Ponnathpur is a Public Policy student at National Law School of India University, Bengaluru with interests in policy, politics and data analytics.
Views are author’s own.