HOME

  THE GAZE
  ARTICLES
  COVERAGE
  COLUMNS
  AUTHORS

During his tenure as the first non-Congress Chief Minister of Karnataka, Ramakrishna Hegde had built a new city modelled on Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh, with neatly divided sectors, pavements and gardens. New Bagalkot was Hegde’s experiment of modern urban planning and he truly believed that the citizens of that town would repay him with love and affection. 

Indian electorate have this uncanny knack of surprising even the biggest of leaders in the polling booth. In the 1991 LS elections, Ramakrishna Hegde, the tallest Lingayat mass leader of that time (despite not being a Lingayat himself), the man who was instrumental in building a new Bagalkot met his Waterloo there in the supposed Lingayat heartland district. Mr. Hegde was trounced by a political novice contesting an election for the very first time. 

Today, another Chief Minister has come to Bagalkot in search of Kuruba votes because he has found the going extremely tough in his home district of Mysore. Badami could well turn out to be the Waterloo of Siddaramaiah despite some 55000 dedicated Kuruba voters in the constituency. The wind in Bagalkot district is definitely blowing in the saffron direction as of today.

Congress party was running a smooth campaign for nearly three months in Karnataka since the start of 2018. The party had cleverly managed to convert the state election as a fight for Kannada pride and Siddaramaiah as the local chieftain versus a mainly north-Indian party like BJP. Even on the Lingayat separate religion issue, BJP hardly had any response while Congress seemed to have done its homework. On the other hand, the BJP state unit was still a divided house with most leaders not seeing each other eye to eye. In fact, BJP campaign had been almost totally lackluster with hardly any enthusiasm among RSS-BJP workers. Until late March, it almost seemed as if Congress may pull off a surprise re-election in a state known to be historically anti-incumbent in nature. Then, in April, the Congress party committed three major blunders which turned the tide against it in a wave-less election environment.

 

  • Firstly, Rahul Gandhi simply lacked the moral authority or the political courage to convince Siddaramaiah not to give up on his safe seat, Varuna. This move was a disaster as the sitting CM tried hard to campaign for four full days in Chamundeshwari only to find huge resistance among voters, so he finally had to rush to a relatively “safe” seat of Badami. The message this move conveyed to the ordinary party workers was quite negative. A General leading the battle cannot develop cold-feet, for his foot-soldiers would then abandon the frontline.
  • One of the primary thumb-rules for beating anti-incumbency is to replace sitting MLAs because hyperlocal anti-incumbency is far higher in potency than general anger against the government. In fact, Modi as CM of Gujarat had made this into a fine art by routinely replacing at least 20-30 leaders in each election cycle. In Karnataka, Congress simply did not replace any of its leaders despite many of them being extremely unpopular in their constituencies. The messy ticket distribution has not only left more than 30 rebels in the fray but also has led to many key leaders abandoning their posts in the electoral battle.
  • The third big blunder was pushing JDS to the wall. Siddaramaiah’s personal animosity with the Gowda family became the official policy of the Congress party when Rahul Gandhi made an extremely ill-timed statement of JDS being ‘the B team of BJP’. Electoral politics is the art of fighting one enemy while fending off another through friendly gestures, especially in a complex state like Karnataka. Congress party unnecessarily opened another flank against JDS leaving its main battlefield with BJP in deeply vulnerable position. As a result, today, in more than three dozen seats, BJP and JDS seem to have made defeating Congress a common cause. 

 

It was always a herculean task for Congress to retain Karnataka without the support of either of the powerful castes, Lingayats and Vokkaligas. All the talk of Siddramaiah’s AHINDA vote conglomeration of backward castes, tribal population, SC voters and minorities was nice in theory but hardly practical in reality. For instance, even in 2013 when Congress came to power, the party did not get any significant increase in support, for its vote-share grew by a mere 1.8% from 2008 when it had lost power. Congress won in 2013 purely because of a divided opposition. The much discussed AHINDA coalition could add only 1.8% to the Congress tally despite massive anti-incumbency against the then ruling BJP government. In fact, whenever Congress has played with such caste coalitions, it has managed to antagonize powerful segments of voters to such an extent that it has been routed out of those geographies. For example, the Congress experiment of KHAM – Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim – coalition in Gujarat in the 80’s ensured that no Congress CM was ever elected in the state since 1995. Similarly, ever since the Mandal/OBC movement gained currency in the heartland, Congress political coalition of upper-castes, Dalits and Muslims simply collapsed under its own weight. Is Siddaramaiah with his AHINDA theorem any different in Karnataka?

img/blogs/2017/20180501043003.jpg 

At the outset, Karnataka may appear as a wave-less election at the state level, but there are many micro-stories that get missed in this larger narrative. For instance, the political rehabilitation of Bellary Reddy brothers and the rise of Sriramulu as the pan-Karnataka Valmiki/ST leader is having a huge impact in at least 20 odd seats of Central Karnataka where BJP had lost steam after 2014.

Similarly, the movement of small local leaders towards BJP is also creating micro-demographic shifts that get missed by the media narrative. For example, the Saffronization of the two powerful Guttedars – Malikayya and Subhash in Gulbarga district – along with the entry of Kumar Bangarappa has for the first time given a big incentive for the backward Idiga community to vote in large numbers for BJP. Historically, Idigas have been a Congress vote-bank, especially because of the late Mr. Bangarappa who was also an ex Chief Minister.

Another example of such a late demographic movement is seen in Bagalkot where Siddramaiah has given ticket to his longtime associate and a fellow Kuruba, H.Y. Meti despite a massive sex scandal involving him and huge opposition from the rank and file. As a result, P.H. Poojar, a former BJP man who had shifted to Congress in the last election and had been instrumental in Meti’s victory, has moved back to the BJP. Mr. Poojar, being an original Jan Sangh leader has pockets of influence in at least three assembly segments of Bagalkot district.

In the 2013 assembly elections, Congress had maxed out with a tally of 50 seats out of 81 in North Karnataka. That was a near-term peak for the party in this region. Yet, when we look at the data more closely, we observe that BJP along with its two splinter groups of KJP and BSRCP not only enjoyed a clear lead of 4% in these seats but also had lead positions in a whopping 1200+ extra polling booths over and above the Congress tally. This time in 2018, a united BJP is seeing greater demographic micro-moment towards itself along with the Modi factor playing out in full steam.

img/blogs/2017/20180501050636.jpg

There are many such stories that are getting unleashed at the ground, especially more so in Northern Karnataka where BJP is seen to be on ascendancy by voters, leaders and Karyakartas cutting across party lines. It is this perception battle where Congress has been weakened in North Karnataka. Indeed, if Congress made three big blunders, there are four factors that are working in favour of the BJP as of now.

 

  • After having virtually analyzed data from every assembly segment, we can vouch for the fact that there are designated polling booths in every assembly seat of Karnataka where a large chunk of voters are voting purely for Modi, irrespective of who the candidate is. Such deep traction for one leader (one who doesn’t even speak the local language) is unheard of since the death of Indira Gandhi. Modi campaign will make a big difference by turning out the base on election day in an otherwise unenthusiastic political landscape.
  • The shift of four extremely backward communities towards BJP over the last few weeks has given lethal sting to LIBRA – Lingayat + Brahmin – coalition of voters. Very much under the radar, Valmikis, Idigas, Madigas and other non-right SC votes could be the defining feature of Karnataka elections in 2018 thereby reinforcing the USHV (United Spectrum of Hindu Votes) in Karnataka.
  • The massively skewed vote-share of BJP wherein its votes are concentrated in northern and central parts while it is virtually non-existent in Old-Mysore and surrounding regions, gives the party a much better seat conversion ratio than even 2008. Conversely, Congress with a spread thin vote distribution across the state faces the same dilemma that BJP faced in Gujarat last year (where despite a massive 8% lead, BJP did not sweep the state and instead barely managed to get a majority).
  • In North and Central Karnataka, the trends and swings are in favour of BJP in a big way. Such trending data usually produce landslide results in underlying geographies. For example, in Mumbai-Karnataka as well as Hyderabad-Karnataka, for every 100 swing voters, on an average 46-49 are breaking out in favour of BJP while Congress is only managing about 32. With about 17% undecided voters in these geographies at the start of April, the trend towards BJP has been clearly visible

img/blogs/2017/20180501052953.jpg

Does this mean BJP is sweeping Karnataka like it did in Uttar Pradesh last year? To answer that question, we will have to see how this trend continues beyond North Karnataka. We will be travelling to other parts of the state over the next few days, but for today, let us focus on North Karnataka.

5Forty3 Datalabs has developed a specialized tool known as MAPi – Micro Analytics Projections (INTELLIGENCE) – which measures socio-political and socio-economic changes of India’s mass markets through various data metrics. Hyderabad-Karnataka and Mumbai Karnataka are home to 81 assembly segments and MAPi was deployed in 17240 GUIs (Geographic Units of Intelligence) of these 81 assembly segments to measure electoral trends (each GUI is home to a mean of roughly 1200 citizens). These 17240 GUIs also incorporate polling booth level trends of the corresponding 20055 polling booths in these regions.

For long now, India has seen a lot of polls and pollsters but most of them lack consistency in predicting and analyzing elections accurately. At 5Forty3 Datalabs we have been working at various levels to eliminate errors from polling in India. As a part of this exercise, we have created a new platform, ChunavpediA which envisages building a large public platform of hyperlocal electoral stories sourced through public participation. ChunavpediA platform is being built in order to change the way elections are predicted and projected. The old way of releasing vote-shares and then converting the same into seats has a lot of built in errors simply because of the sub-geographic complexities and variations of India.

ChunavpediA now aims at a bottom-up disruption of Indian elections by simply projecting each assembly/Lok Sabha seat by deploying predictive algorithms to the underlying polling booths of each constituency. You can track each of the 224 assembly seats of Karnataka here at ChunavpediA spotlight – for today, the 81 assembly seats of North Karnataka are active and the rest of the 143 will go live over the next few days.

Of the 81 assembly seats of north Karnataka, BJP is currently (at the time of writing this article) ahead in 45 while Congress is ahead in 24. The JDS and others are leading in 1 seat each while there are 10 swing/undecided seats. Even if the swing seats break out at 50% in favour of the frontrunner party, the BJP in the coming days has the potential to win about 62% of the seats in these two regions. 

If BJP marches ahead in this direction, then Karnataka could well be the last battle of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty as we strongly believe that Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh assembly elections would be clubbed together with the 2019 national elections.