Politics

Elections 2019 | What Is Karnataka Voting For

In Karnataka, the Congress and JD(S) have formed a a pre-poll alliance to avoid splitting the non-BJP vote.

Half of the 28 constituencies in Karnataka went to the polls today, seeing 67.96% of eligible voters turning out to cast their ballots during the second phase of this election.

Despite several rural constituencies in the state having a voter turnout of more than 70%, all three of the seats up for grabs in urban Bangalore saw voter turnout at around or less than 50%. This represents a decline in turnout since the 2014 Lok Sabah election and raises questions about voter apathy in urban areas.

This article has been updated to reflect the poll numbers for the state with ECI figures as of 10pm Thursday.

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As southern Karnataka goes to the polls on April 18, its three major parties take the stage in a pattern set by the state’s assembly elections last year.

In May 2018, a three-cornered contest left the incumbent Congress with the high vote-share (38.14%) but the BJP with the largest number of seats (104 out of 224). Over a heated weekend, the BJP’s B.S. Yeddyurappa failed a floor test and was forced to resign, allowing the Congress and JD(S) to form the government with their combined 127 seats.

Now, as Karnataka elects its Lok Sabha MPs, the Congress and JD(S) have planned to pre-empt a replay of 2018. Karnataka is one of the few states in which Rahul Gandhi has succeeded in forming a pre-poll alliance to avoid splitting the non-BJP vote.

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Prominent figures in this election include former prime minister and JD(S) Supremo H.D. Deve Gowda, who will be contesting from Tumkur. While the seat he traditionally contests is Hassan, where he has won five times (including in 2014), this year he emotionally bequeathed it to his grandson Prajwal Revanna.

A second grandson, Nikhil Kumaraswamy, will contest from the Mandya seat, traditionally held by the Congress – including by its social-media chief, Divya Spandana – but now handed over to the JD(S) in the seat-sharing exercise.

In the 2014 general election, the BJP won 17 of Karnataka’s 28 seats, Congress won nine and the JDS the remaining two (the same two that Gowda’s grandsons will be contesting in 2019).

The Congress’ prominent candidates include its leader in the outgoing Lok Sabha, and MP from Gulbarga, Mallikarjun Kharge, and its dynamic state agriculture minister Krishna Byre Gowda.  He will contest from Bangalore North, going up against the BJP’s Union Minister Sadanand Gowda.

While the BJP faces a deficit of strong state leaders untainted by corruption, it has formed majorities before by engineering defections. This strategy is now broadly referred to as ‘Operation Kamala’, ever since it was first implemented in 2008.

In January of 2019, rumours of a revanche gained steam with the knowledge that three Congress MLA’s had gone ‘missing’ and were allegedly sequestered with a BJP delegation in a hotel. Yet Operation Kamala 2.0 met a premature end when Lingayat seer Sri Shivakumara Swamiji of Siddaganga Mutt in Tumkur passed away, silencing political machinations.

Rumours of horse-trading reached a peak in February when Karnataka Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy released explosive audiotapes of Yeddyurappa offering a Rs 10 crore bribe to a JD(S) MLA, and a Rs 50 crore bribe to the speaker of the legislative assembly.

The BJP in particular has been tainted by its closeness to the Ballary mining mafia, centered on the mining baron and former BJP state minister G. Janardhana Reddy.

The party has also fielded Tejasvi Surya to contest from Bangalore South, a 29-year-old already replete with so much controversy that he issued an injunction to 40 media outlets to stop them from publishing potentially defamatory material about him. The injunction has since been set aside by the Karnataka high court. 

Among the main issues affecting the voters in Karnataka is that of regional pride, with Congress president Siddaramaiah deftly employing linguistic politics against the encroachment of the BJP. The Kannada vs Hindi debate and a separate flag are symbolic of a emotive resistance to north-Indian hegemony.

A push to define the Lingayat religion as separate from Hinduism rather than being a subsect of it has been a polarising issue. On one hand, the Lingayat community is the largest established vote-bank of the BJP, and on the other, scholars and devout leaders are calling for its separation from Hinduism, which threatens the grip of Hindutva over the community.

Other issues include agrarian stress, with the vast majority of promises made in 2014 by the Central Government remaining inadequately implemented. Farmers recently protested against Amit Shah at a rally in north-eastern Karnataka, frequently interrupting him with fact-checks of his statements on loan-waivers and farmer support.

The water crisis has grown more severe, with conflicts around the allocation of water from the Cauvery river in the south and the Mahadayi or Mandovi river in the north. The state capital Bengaluru also faces huge deficits in water requirements, predominantly affecting the city’s poor – and raising the spectre of a ‘Day Zero’ where the water will run dry.

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The Karnataka electorate will vote across phases two and three. Phase two, on September 18, includes the following constituencies:

Udupi Chikmagalur, Hassan, Dakshina Kannada, Chitradurga, Tumkur, Mandya, Mysore, Chamarajanagar, Bangalore Rural, Bangalore North, Bangalore Central, Bangalore South, Chikkballapur, Kolar

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