Karnataka Electoral Conundrum 2023
The Chief Election Commission of India has announced the Election in Karnataka on 10 May 2023 in a single phase. The counting of votes will be on 13 May 23. The model Code of Conduct is already in place and political temperature of the state has started soaring up. There are two main stakeholders in BJP and Congress; and JD(S) will be a fringe group but surely will make their presence felt. By now Arvind Kejriwals’ Aam Admi Party (AAP) has enough funds and surely will try to raise his pitch like the ones in Gujarat.
The 2018 Electoral Results and Drama
Going by the past few elections in the state, battle lines are drawn essentially between BJP and Congress. The 2018 state election gave a hung parliament with BJP-104, Congress- 80 and JD(S)– 37 seats. Before BJP even thought of reaching out to JD(S) for support in forming govt, Ms Sonia Gandhi shot out a Fax of unconditional support to JD(S) that did the unthinkable, propping up Kumaraswami as CM candidate. It was a political coup against BJP. Of course, internal squabble in the party led to their downfall in 1 yr 63 days of rule with plenty of drama enacted in the period. The script of the drama was believed to have been written by BJP. The thorny CM chair that Yediyurappa of BJP occupied, was equally painful for him and he finally vacating it for another party member, the incumbent Baswaraj Bommai.
Corrupt Karnataka Govts of Past
Karnataka politicians have been known for their corruption since ages. Since 1974 electoral merging with Mysore, only three CMs namely Ramkrishna Hegde, SM Krishna and Siddaramaiah have been able to complete their tenures. In the remaining 34 yrs, there have been 19 CMs, some in musical chairs. The various state govts right since 1980s have been considered highly corrupt. Seldom a public work is done without bribe. Police, PWD, sub-registrars, BBMP, education, transports and many others have been marred in public corruption. Although Yediyurappa went to jail for corruption (of de-notifying govt land and allotting to the MLAs), almost all past Karnataka CMs had also indulged in this irregularity. Bommai administration seems to be marred in only one irregularity of conducting recruitment examination for KPTC Jr Engineer and Police-SI. Various recruitments process in the previous govts too have been marred in major scams incl those at the highest levels of the KPSC. Siddaramaiah’s Congress govt (2013-18) is considered by many as the most corrupt in the history of Karnataka. There were numerous scams at the state level, some in parallel with those of UPA govt at centre. Most of the previous Karnataka govts have allegedly been indulging in corruption of ~20% commission in various govt schemes. Most of the govt employees too had to pay bribes in every financial year to get their salaries. This trend though continues even in the present BJP Govt. Some of the scams of Congress govt in 2013-18 that raised enough dust in public eyes, is mentioned in the text box below: -
Actually, Congress Party has lost its credibility. The high command Mrs Sonia Gandhi, past party president Rahul Gandhi are on bail for financial fraud and corruption. Most of their top leaders are also sitting on 'Bail Gadi' heading towards jail. Poll promises of Rahul Gandhi have acquired the notoriety of being called as #Pappu_Poll_Promises on some social media essentially their failure to fulfil those promises in Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh. Hence, now whatever promises he makes, it is brushed off by the voters who give example of their betrayal in Rajasthan.
The Present BJP Govt
CM Baswaraj Bommai himself a clean person, remains without any trace of corruption charges. However, some of his ministers and bureaucrats retain their dark images. Congress has already made a narrative of him heading a 40% commission govt. This allegation seems to be a half-truth levelled by the State Contractors, most of whom are tainted themselves, having sent out a letter to the union govt apparently motivated by some Congress leaders. Whatever level of bribe that may be, it is highly condemnable for the BJP govt which has been claiming to be fair. However, most Kannadigas believe that the extent of corrupt practices in Karnataka remains by and large at the same level witnessed during Siddaramaiah and Kumaraswami govts. Corruption in the day-to-day governance has come down significantly in the Bommai govt with the augmentation of online services in various deptts. Further, the level and extent of scams have significantly reduced in Bommai Govt. There has been no major scam in the present BJP govt. It is a big achievement while comparing with the past Congress and JDS. Overall, BJP seems to be a front-runner in the present electoral conundrum. Hence, there is a reasonable dilemma before the Karnataka Voters…as to whom to choose.
Present Electoral Battle
The initial opinion poll in March 2023 showed a lead/surge for Congress mainly because of the anti-incumbency and inconvenience caused to the public owing to the slow progress of public works. Although this shows the disillusionment of the public with the present BJP govt, lot many Kannadigas are very sceptical of the dark days of the previous Congress govts…both during Siddaramaiah’s run and later under JD(S). HD Kumaraswami’s govt was both corrupt as well as inefficient in handling administration. They were apparently over-exploited by the corrupt ministers of Congress, their ruling coalition partner. It is believed that under JDS, Congress allegedly went berserk in tail-twisting and corruption, giving a very bad name to Kumaraswami.
The last opinion poll may also have been adversely affected by the civic woes caused by numerous ongoing public works. It is a truth that a lot of public works are in process in the last over 1 yr, causing public inconveniences and annoyance owing to snail-pace progress. It was only in the last 2 months that most Bangaloreans witnessed a brisk pace in those works progressing to completion; and the public could guess, the election is around the corner. Most of the roads have been done up, pots filled up and public conveniences geared up.
Karnataka Congress is desperately seeking help from CPI cadre in the state. It will be interesting to see the response of the aspiring candidates of the different factions of the Communists. They are also trying to reach out to the Christians & Muslims who were unhappy with the Bommai govt on anti-Conversion Bill. Congress party is Ok with the unholy conversion game of poor & Dalit Hindus. On the other hand, BJP has resolved the decades-old cries of the OBCs in the state to bring back the 4% temporary reservation to Dalit Muslims by implementing that part of the Sadashiv Commission Report accepted by the State Govt in 2012. The Lingayat and Vokkaliga OBCs of the State are happy to get back the 4% additional reservation. BJP has also done a major revamp in the list of probable candidates by bringing in some 40+ new young faces in the place of the old and tainted ones.
Party manifestos in Karnataka have also caused storms in the public and media eyes. Congress has kicked the dust of equating Bajrangdal to the banned PFI. They have also promised freebies for the Kannadigas which is extremely difficult to implement. Hence, voters are junking these promises. On the other hand, BJP has vowed to implement Uniform Civil Code and NRC and implement welfare schemes for the poor. Hardly any sizable voters are seeing JDS, AAP or the communal AIMIM/SDPI as serious contenders.
The Vote-Bank Politics of Karnataka
In the present times of high-decibel election campaigns, CM Bommai should be able to project BJP as a better party and the front-runner in the State. At the same time, in-party fighting in Congress between corrupt ex-CM Siddaramaiah and on-bail Shivakumar (for corruption) as possible CM candidates are casting dark shadows. Karnataka also has a ‘Vote-Bank’ in Lingayats and Muslims forming 16% and 13% respectively of total voters. For decades, Lingayats have been traditionally with their caste leader Mr YS Yediyurappa; and Muslims divided between Congress and JDS. Congress and JD(S) are also in storm before Hindu & Christian voters for felicitating Tippu Sultan who committed genocide against Hindu Ayengars and Christians. Every now and then Cong-JDS is seen standing with the radical Muslim groups to garner their votes whether on the subject of Hijab, Halal meat, Noisy loudspeakers yelling Azan or stone pelting on Hindu processions in Mangalore, Hubbali and elsewhere.
In this 2023 election, Bommai Govt have won some favour by OBCs when they cancelled 4% Muslim OBC quota in employment. Surely Owaisi will play a spoilsport for all Muslim-appeasing parties; be it Congress, JDS or AAP. This time even BJP is trying to woe Pasminda Muslims. Just like what Owaisi did in Bihar election (2019), he may be successful in denting Cong-JDS-AAP by winning few seats in the several Muslim-dominant constituencies of Tumkur, Raichur, Bidar, Bijapur and Gulbarga. SDPI and AIMIM are contesting some 22 seats. Both these parties are highly communal in their approaches. All these communal approaches of political parties are likely to benefit BJP the most by polarising the Hindu votes. AAP in all likelihood will make enough noise as they did in Gujarat, but may not be able to influence the voters in Karnataka esp after their innovative liquor scam in Delhi came to the light (read “Inventing Corruptions thru’ IIT Brain”, https://thecounterviews.com/articles/inventing-corruptions-thru-iit-brain/).
Main Achievements of the Present BJP Govt
It is a fact that the recent double-engine BJP govt of Karnataka has had many laudable transformations of Infrastructure, development and welfare projects (shown below)…be it highways/expressways, Bangalore Metro, implementation of Kisan Samman, PM Awas, Ayushman Bharat, world-class AC Railway Terminal in Bangalore, new IIT Dharwad etc; and above all, the vast new HAL ventures for manufacturing Helicopters towards Atmnirbhar Bharat. Bommai Govt has taken special care of the farmers of the state. Suicides by the state farmers that used to be an embarrassment for all previous govts, have significantly reduced in recent years. Going by the emerging indicators on the early campaign trails, it looks as if BJP may be able to scrape through the majority mark BUT there could be slips between the cups and lips.
Karnataka electoral conundrum of 2023 is bizarre in the initial days of the campaign. Selection of candidates has been a thorny process for all parties. As in the previous years, dissatisfied non-selected aspirants have done some damages, with some even jumping in the fray as independents. BJP seems to have done well by bringing in several new clean, young and dynamic faces. Unlike the traditionally corrupt govts of the past, the present Bommai govt has been largely clean, having completed many laudable infrastructure, development and welfare projects of the state. This is a stark difference from the most previous govts who used to seldom complete the tasks at hand. The BJP govt has improved upon the past online services with many new civic facilities that have largely eradicated corruption from the systems but corruption in most other govt and bureaucratic systems remains as in past many decades. Nonetheless, there are allegations of corruption on recruitment processes and demanding commission from contractors.
Numerous electorate who have not yet made up their minds, may finally opt for BJP because all other political parties are severely marred in deep corruption. Congress party, the main rival of BJP visibly seems to be the most corrupt party with its leadership both at state and central levels on bail, evading jail for corruption charges pending in courts. The present state BJP govt seems clean, effective; having completed several Infra, development and welfare projects. They may be able to win the election with a simple majority. There is a possibility though that should they fall short by few, JDS or a few independents may turn out to be the kingmakers at the end. The picture will be getting clearer as the election campaigns progress.
(Note-The author of this article is a resident of Bangalore for nearly 30 yrs having seen almost all govts of the past. This article is largely based on his own experience. Any exclusion is unintentional and must be seen in this perspective).