Why Karnataka 2018 is different from UP 2017

UP was a three-way fight, so is Karnataka. The BJP was the stronger outsider in Uttar Pradesh, so is it in Karnataka. The BJP had done extremely well during the Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh, it did well in Karnataka, too. (DH file photo)

As we reach the fag end of the election campaigning in Karnataka, there is a rising expectation among the most vociferous supporters of the BJP that Karnataka, too, will end in the same manner as Uttar Pradesh, an unprecedented landslide. It is perhaps time to examine if there is a basis for this belief.

The primary basis for this feeling is the similarity in the contests. UP was a three-way fight, so is Karnataka. The BJP was the stronger outsider in Uttar Pradesh, so is it in Karnataka. The BJP had done extremely well during the Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh, it did well in Karnataka, too.

In 2014, the BJP was able to build a wide coalition of voters in Uttar Pradesh, in Karnataka, too, it had managed the same, with some Dalits and Vokkaligas. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was quite popular in both states. Lastly, while spirits were quite down in the BJP campaign until the PM arrived on the scene, it appears that the massive “response” to the PM in Karnataka, which was also seen during the election in UP in 2017, confirmed the expectations of a landslide victory. So, there appears to be a sound basis for this
belief.

But, are there so many similarities? First, unlike UP, the main competitor to the BJP in Karnataka, the Congress, is built around a much stronger caste-religion combination. In UP, excluding the Yadavs, the Muslims and Jatavs, the addressable votes for the BJP was 65%. In Karnataka, excluding the Muslims, the Kurubas, SCs and Vokkaligas, the addressable votes for the BJP is about 50%. It is the 15% that is the difference between a landslide and a win. 

Second, unlike UP, where the BJP had spread its wings across the state, in Karnataka, it still operates with significant geographic weakness. The BJP was competitive in not more than 160 seats. To win 80% of the seats in Karnataka, as it did in UP, it will need to win 180 seats.

Third, in UP, Modi was campaigning on the back of demonetisation, which was initially quite popular with voters. There is no such popular measure that Modi can campaign on in Karnataka. Beyond evoking cultural icons and attacking Congress performance, he has little to talk about in Karnataka. Let us consider all his pet schemes. 

The Ujjwala Yojana has touched nearly one million out of the 11 million homes in Karnataka, about 8%. In UP, it had touched 16% of the homes by the time of the election in 2017. While some 3.6 million toilets were built in Karnataka (about 30% of the households), some 2.4 million had been built in UP. However, water is a big issue in Karnataka, which the past BJP government, too, had failed. On Jan Dhan Yojana, nearly 60% of Karnataka women already had a bank account before Jan Dhan picked up steam, in UP it was about 54%.

It is not that the Modi government did not have a positive impact in Karnataka, it is just the scale and size is lower given that Karnataka is some three times more affluent than Uttar Pradesh. Further, unlike the Akhilesh government, which was struggling to grow the economy, the Karnataka economy is one of the most vibrant economies in the country.

The Modi government has not enjoyed a positive reputation on agriculture. They have announced a similar loan waiver scheme in Karnataka as they did in Uttar Pradesh, but with the Karnataka government having already executed a loan waiver scheme, the advantage is much more limited. All of this is visible in independent studies that compare the leadership ratings of the PM in Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. While the prime minister was much more popular in UP in 2017 than he was in 2014, it is the reverse in Karnataka: he is less popular now in Karnataka than he was in 2014.

Poorly-chosen candidate

Fourth, In Karnataka, unlike UP, the BJP announced B S Yeddyurappa as its chief ministerial candidate in order to consolidate its core Lingayat vote. While this has not alienated any voters, it has put Yeddyurappa against Chief Minister Siddaramaiah of the Congress directly. Almost every survey, sans one, gives a huge lead to Siddaramaiah.

In a reversal of roles not seen commonly among Congress CM candidates, Siddaramaiah is seen as a doer, more in touch with the ground and extremely decisive. It hasn’t helped the BJP leader much that he had to quit the CM position mid-way during his first term as the chief minister. Some of those corruption investigations remain and the continued involvement of the Reddy brothers in the BJP campaign has not helped matters much.

Fifth, the BJP government’s performance during 2008 and 2013 is not much to write about. Whether it is the mining scandal, the complete unpreparedness of Bengaluru city for large-scale migration, or most other metrics, the performance was ordinary.

Unlike UP, in Karnataka the voters have already seen what a BJP government of five years would look like. The memories are not necessarily great. 

Last but not the least, the issue of Kannada pride has put the BJP on the back foot. This has pushed Modi to bring this topic to the fore in a variety of ways. To the core BJP voter, this may not matter a lot, but for the average voter, this would be on the back of the mind. Even a 1%-2% addition to the Congress kitty could damage the BJP campaign significantly.

While the voters make up their mind over the next few days, one thing is clear, BJP’s performance will be nowhere near like it was in Uttar Pradesh. Every vote will have to be fought for until the final hour.

(The writer is political insights consultant, Campaign 360 Consultancy)

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