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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

Lok Sabha elections 2019: Can Congress, JD-S clinch a win in Karnataka?

With around three weeks to go for Lok Sabha elections, talk on party strategies has centred on the advantage that the ruling Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance enjoys over BJP.

lok-sabha-elections Updated: Mar 28, 2019 09:49 IST
Vikram Gopal
Vikram Gopal
Hindustan Times, Bengaluru
Congress president Rahul Gandhi
Congress president Rahul Gandhi(PTI file photo)

With around three weeks to go for polling in the state for the Lok Sabha elections, talk on party strategies has centred on the advantage that the ruling Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance enjoys over the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), based on their combined vote share in the 2018 assembly polls, which was higher than that of the BJP. Indeed, out of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka, the coalition received a higher vote share than the BJP in 22 of them in the 2018 assembly elections. In the last general elections of 2014, out of the 17 seats that the BJP won, 11 were among these 22.

In Shivamogga, a stronghold of state BJP chief BS Yeddyurappa, the coalition’s combined vote share increased as is evidenced by the falling victory margins of the BJP — in the November 2018 Lok Sabha by-election, JD(S) candidate Madhu Bangarappa lost by around 52,000 votes against Yeddyurappa’s son BY Raghavendra. Yeddyurappa had won the seat in 2014 by a margin of over 350,000 votes. The ruling coalition won four out of five by-elections, which were held for three assembly seats and two Lok Sabha seats.

In Ballari, the Congress pulled off a surprise victory in the by-polls, with untested candidate VS Ugrappa defeating J Shantha of the BJP by a margin of around 240,000 votes. The seat had been won by B Sreeramulu of the BJP in 2014, and has been held by the party since 2004. The by-poll results came on the back of the Congress’s good performance in Ballari in the 2018 assembly elections, held in May, when it won six of the eight assembly segments that are part of the Lok Sabha constituency, up from the three that it won in 2013.

The shift in numbers is especially noticeable if we look at the assembly results from Bengaluru city. The Congress won 15 assembly constituencies out of 28 in the 2018 elections, bettering its haul of 13 from the previous time, while the JD(S) won two seats and the BJP won 11.


Now, the caveat

The BJP has swept the state in the past three Lok Sabha polls. In 2004, it won 18 seats; in 2009, it increased its tally to 19, which came down slightly to 17 in 2014. The BJP’s dominance cannot be read down, despite the fact that by dint of being a regional party, the JD (S) is expected to be more popular.

In the 2004 general elections, the BJP led in 108 of the state’s 224 assembly segments — higher than the 79 seats it won in the assembly elections held the same year. In the 2009 general elections, the BJP led in 141 assembly segments with a vote share of 41.63%, after winning 110 seats in the assembly elections the previous year. And though it led in 132 assembly segments in the 2014 general elections, its vote share increased to an all-time high of 43.37% for the party.

The JD (S), in its current form, meanwhile, contested for the first time in 2004, winning two Lok Sabha seats. It was a shadow of the undivided Janata Dal, and needed to depend on alliances with “senior partners” to form a government. Its vote share shows a dip in Lok Sabha polls compared to assembly elections.

For instance, in 2013, the party managed a vote share of 20.19%. This dipped to 11.07% the next year during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. This trend was similar in the 2008 assembly polls, when the party received 19.44% of the vote, and the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, when the vote share reduced to 13.57%.

This trend of reduction of the JD(S) votes is also in evidenced in the assembly segments it led in during the 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha elections, as opposed to the constituencies it won in the 2008 and 2013 assembly elections. In 2008, it won 28 seats in the assembly, but led in 21 segments the following year; in 2013 it won 40 seats, but led in only 15 segments a year later in the general elections.

Local rivalry

A senior Congress leader, who did not wish to be named, said the crucial challenge lies in ensuring that the local rivalry between the two parties in the southern region is managed well, and the JD(S) vote in the northern region is brought to the coalition fold.

For instance, on 24 March, chief minister HD Kumaraswamy held a press conference in which he alleged that the coalition workers are trying to sabotage the candidature of his son, Nikhil Kumar, who is to contest from the Lok Sabha seat of Mandya. Several local Congress workers have backed Sumalatha Ambareesh, wife of the late film star and former union minister MH Ambareesh to contest as an independent candidate from Mandya.

In Mysuru, where Congress candidate and former MP CH Vijayshankar will contest against incumbent Pratap Simha of the BJP, it is the JD(S) that has an advantage. It won three of the eight assembly segments, while the Congress won one.

“The Congress workers’ behaviour in Mandya will be reciprocated in kind in Mysuru. If they make it difficult for Nikhil to win in Mandya, we will make it equally difficult for the Congress in Mysuru,” a JD(S) minister in the current government told HT.

Meanwhile, in Tumakuru, where JD(S) chief HD Deve Gowda will contest, Muddahanumegowda, the sitting MP who belongs to the Congress, also filed his nomination despite the seat-sharing agreement between the two parties. As per their pre-poll alliance, Congress will contest 20, while JD (S) will contest eight Lok Sabha seats.

It is this dissidence that led many leaders from both parties who spoke with HT to express doubts about the impact of the coalition.

In the northern and central regions, which have 13 Lok Sabha seats, the JD(S) was able to manage double-digit vote share only in Chitradurga in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. It is contesting only the Vijayapura seat in the region this time around.

The Congress, on the other hand, has a higher vote share than the BJP in six seats, based on the latest assembly election results. However, in two constituencies — Raichur, which it won in 2014, and Koppal — the BJP had more elected MLAs than the Congress.

Forest and environment minister Satish Jarkiholi, who is a Congress leader from the northern Belagavi district, said that it was relatively easier to ensure that the coalition arithmetic worked in the north.

“In the north, there is no bitter rivalry between us because they are a marginal force, but the small number of voters the JD(S) has there are very committed to the party and will vote whichever way [former prime minister HD] Deve Gowda asks them to,” he said.

However, PC Gaddigoudar, BJP MP from the northern Bagalkot constituency , questioned this. “In 2014, JD(S) supporters majorly voted for me, and this was the trend even in 2009, when I won,” he said. “There is little evidence even in the north that the coalition votes will go together,” the three-time MP said.

To resolve these issues, the coalition partners are set to embark on combined statewide campaigns, headed by Deve Gowda and his protégé-turned-foe, Siddaramaiah, who heads the coordination committee for the coalition. A senior Congress leader and state minister said this was no easy task.

“We have a long way to go to address the deeply ingrained distrust between our two parties to have any advantage,” he said on condition of anonymity.

First Published: Mar 28, 2019 06:35 IST