What to Look Out for in the Karnataka Elections

A look at previous outcomes and the different parties' strengths and weaknesses.

What’s at stake

  • Total number of voters: 4.96 crore
  • Average number of voters in each constituency: 2.21 lakh
  • First-time voters: 15.42 lakh
  • Electorate in 18-19 age bracket: 7.6 lakh

Important dates

  • Date of notification: April 17
  • Last date to file nominations: April 24
  • Last date to withdraw nominations: April 27
  • Date of polling: May 12
  • Date of counting: May 15

Lok Sabha seats (28)

Assembly seats (224: 173 general, 36 SC, 15 ST)


Regional equations: current scenario



Attempts to depict itself as a party that believes in a “humanistic” form of Hinduism, as opposed to the BJP’s “communal one”.


The high points of the campaign of BJP president Amit Shah and BJP chief ministerial candidate B.S. Yeddyurappa have been visits to temples and homes of members of Hindu groups killed under different circumstances. Each of these killings have been projected as a collapse of law and order under the Congress regime and evidence of Congress’s “anti-Hindu” posture.


JD(S) has been beset by internal squabbling and dissensions. Deep fissures are visible in the party along caste lines, which triggered the exit of the likes of Siddaramaiah. Recently, seven MLAs joined the Congress owing to excessive control exerted by the family of Deve Gowda. Yet, JD(S) hopes to play a kingmaker role.

Why both Congress and BJP think they’ll seal the deal

Simple vote arithmetic.

BJP’s emphatic victory in the 2014 parliamentary elections, which got them 43.37% of the vote share and won them 17 of the Lok Sabha’s 28 seats in the state, has them confident. This figure was much more than the 33.86% votes which the party won in 2008, when it formed the first BJP government in South India with 110 seats.

The Congress is banking on the fact that it has never won less than 35% of the votes in the state, in Lok Sabha or Vidhan Sabha elections. Even in 2014, the Congress, which had been in power in Karnataka for a year by then, survived the Modi wave to some measure and managed to win 41.15 % of the votes and nine parliament seats.

Why Karnataka matters


Maintaining a stronghold in Karnataka is crucial to the Congress’s resurgence as the main anti-BJP force for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.


The BJP needs a win to regain the momentum it lost after being defeated in crucial seats in the Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and UP by-polls. Karnataka is supposed to be BJP’s point of entry into southern India.

Biggest challenge


  • Possibly facing anti-incumbency.
  • To send out a message that the saffron momentum is diminishing gradually.
  • A reverse swing in the election results would be electorally weakening the party further.


  • Seeking to revamp its image as a Hindu-Hindi party by emphasising more on the Hindu narrative.
  • A victory in Karnataka could impact the national popular mood as well as “allies” who might otherwise consider joining an anti-BJP platform

Where the Congress has succeeded so far

The BJP has always enjoyed the support of the Lingayat community. Siddaramaiah’s decision to push for minority status for them could prevent the consolidation of the Lingayat votes. It also might dent the image of Yeddyurappa, who belongs to the influential community, for he could be perceived as not championing the interests of the community. If Siddaramaiah succeeds in getting Yeddyurappas’s Hindu upper-caste Lingayats into his fold by giving them a separate religion, Yeddyurappa would be a commander-in-chief without his forces.

The party’s game plan is to play “soft Hindutva” and “development” cards in the regions where it would clash with the BJP, while hitting hard against the JD(S) in the south. Rechristening the JD(S) as the “B team” of the RSS is being deliberately done to consolidate anti-BJP voters in favour of the Congress. The Congress’s plan to turn the contest into Modi vs Siddaramaiah one seems to be working.

Where the BJP has succeeded so far

Despite the chaos over the demand raised by Lingayats for a minority religion status, the BJP is confident of safeguarding its social base comprising the upper castes and a section of Dalits. In addition, the BJP comforts itself that Karnataka has never re-elected a government since 1985. They intend to exploit the popularity of the prime minister and could possibly indulge in communal polarisation along the coast.

Results of surveys

India Today-Karvy 0pinion poll

  • Congress: 90-101 seats
  • BJP: 78-86 seats
  • JD(S): 34-43 seats

Karnataka Voter Survey 2018 carried out by ADR and DAKSH

“The survey tried to identify the important factors that people take into account before voting for a particular party. It asked respondents about the reason they vote for a particular candidate. They were given five choices—candidate, party, party’s chief ministerial candidate, religion and caste. Respondents had to rank each of these as either very important, important or not important.”

Source: ADR-Daksh report

  • 79% of the respondents were happy with the Anna Bhagya scheme.
  • 63% of beneficiaries of the Cycle Bhagya scheme were happy with the programme.

(The ‘Bhagya’ brand of schemes introduced by Siddaramaiah and the Congress around food security and healthcare have catered to the entire state.)


The Congress is likely to get 46% of the votes, a positive swing of 9%, while the BJP is expected to get 31% votes and the JD(S) 16% of the total votes.

Financial Express report

Both BJP and Congress may not get a majority on their own and the JD(S) may gain at their cost.


Predicted 77-81 seats for Congress; 73-76 seats for BJP; and 64-66 seats for the JD(S).

TV9-C Voter

Congress would be the largest party with 102 seats, while BJP will likely win 96 seats. The JD(S) may end up with 25 seats and is likely to play kingmaker.

Mood of the Nation Survey conducted by CSDS-Lokniti in January 2018

Source: CSDS-Lokniti report

Source: CSDS-Lokniti report

Source: CSDS-Lokniti report

Source: CSDS-Lokniti report

Source: CSDS-Lokniti report

Strengths and weaknesses: BJP


  • Projecting Yeddyurappa as the chief ministerial candidate might stop infighting
  • Despite Siddaramaiah’s effort to split the Lingayats, the community with a vote share of 15-17% is likely to support BJP led by Yeddyurappa, a fellow Lingayat
  • Stronger cadre network than the Congress
  • Appeal of Modi


  • Opposition painting Yeddyurappa as corrupt, citing various alleged scams during his chief ministerial tenure; Congress has termed him a “jailbird”
  • Despite Amit Shah’s attempts to unify the state unit, factionalism persists between the Yeddyurappa and K.S. Eshwarappa camps
  • Α thinner social base as compared to the Congress
  • Overreliance on Modi’s charisma

Strengths and weaknesses: Congress


  • Siddaramaiah’s welfare schemes – Anna Bhagya, Arogya Bhagya, Ksheera Bhagya, Indira Canteens – have been popular.
  • Chief minister invoking Kannada pride and identity by unveiling Karnataka’s own state flag, promoting Kannada usage in metros and other public places
  • A veteran of Mandal politics, Siddaramaiah has cleverly built a social coalition — AHINDA (comprising backwards, Dalits and Muslims) – claiming this has prevented youth from joining the Sangh parivar.


  • Ineffective coordination between administration and party in promoting the government’s welfare schemes
  • Senior ministers facing corruption allegations
  • Large-scale factionalism despite the high command’s unequivocal backing of Siddaramaiah
  • Chief minister’s attempt to consolidate AHINDA can render him vulnerable to BJP’s appeasement charge.
  • JD(S) could upset the apple cart in some regions

Strengths and weaknesses: JD(S)


Former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda is no longer a state-wide factor, but remains pretty influential in the Old Mysore region, driven by the staunch support of fellow Vokkaligas. He hopes his son H.D. Kumaraswamy will deliver a tally sizeable enough to help him play the role of kingmaker in the event of a hung assembly


  • Appeal of H D Kumaraswamy, particularly among the unorganised working class; popularity of schemes like Grama Vastavya that he launched when in power
  • Tie-up with BSP and Left parties
  • Evoking regional sentiments
  • The ‘left out’ sentiment among Vokkaligas may help the party to consolidate its position in the Old Mysore region.


  • The tag of a father-son party
  • No pan-state footprint; absence of leaders who can influence voters in North Karnataka and Coastal Karnataka
  • Lack of resources

The key issues that matter


The last general elections saw a largely presidential style of campaign in a parliamentary system. The emphatic victory was ascribed to Modi’s strong and decisive leadership. The BJP’s effective messaging convinced the aspirational generation and other social groups, which catapulted Modi into power.

However, the trend in the upcoming assembly elections in Karnataka gives an inverse idea. Lokniti-CSDS, an independent research organisation, conducted a Mood of the Nation survey in January wherein a whopping 49% people chose Karnataka’s chief minister Siddaramaiah over the nearest BJP candidate, who drew only 27 % backing, and the JD(S), 20% of the support.

Politically-savvy Congress chief minister Siddaramaiah has carved a niche for himself in the party, which was overburdened by dissensions, and in the wider public sphere by negotiating caste divides and battling communal polarisation.

Political themes of parties


  • Recognising the religion of Lingayats as entirely separate from Hinduism
  • Preserving Kannadiga pride by unveiling ‘Nada Dhwaja’
  • Raising the pitch of the ‘Karnataka model of governance’


  • Highlighting the state government’s alleged misuse of Central government funds
  • Exposing the current regime’s alleged massive corruption
  • Triggering communal polarization

Caste vocabulary

Religious minorities, Dalits and Adivasis constitute 39% of the state’s population, Muslims and Christians (14.79%), Scheduled Castes (17.14%) and Scheduled Tribes (6.95%). Will Siddaramaiah’s AHINDA formula work?

AHINDA (Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits) as a socio-political philosophy can be used as a tool to prevent youths from backward classes and Dalit communities from joining the Hindutva brigade, said chief minister Siddaramaiah. While responding to criticism that many of the chief minister’s populist schemes may have led to further perpetuation of caste discrimination, he said most of the schemes, such as Anna Bhagya and Krishi Bhagya, transcend caste.

Promotion of sub-nationalism

The most cogent summation of the case for sub-nationalism by the chief minister was posted on his Facebook wall.

“The current policies incentivise population growth in north India while delegitimising his Kannada identity. Certain issues of federalism that affect us on a day to day basis. Relatively well-developed states like Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra contribute more to central taxes than what they get in return from the center. What we get from the center comes in the form of state’s share in devolution of central taxes and grants under centrally sponsored schemes. The grants under centrally sponsored schemes come with strings attached.”

He further argues,

“Historically, the South has been subsidising the North. Six states south of the Vindhyas contribute more taxes and get less. For example, for every one rupee of tax contributed by Uttar Pradesh that state receives rupee 1.79. For every one rupee of tax contributed by Karnataka, the state receives 0.47 rupee. While I recognise the need for correcting regional imbalances, where is the reward for development?”

A few days later, he reminded the electorate that in 2013, then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi told Y.V. Reddy, chairman of the 14th Finance Commission, that states’ allocation ratios should be decided on the basis of their respective contribution to GDP. Why then this discrimination against Karnataka now?

Is BJP facing the risk of being tagged as a Hindu-Hindi party?

The BJP believes in Hindi as a uniting force in the nation, which the South doesn’t subscribe to. Prime Minister Narendra Modi bookended his speech with Kannada sentences in Bengaluru. But most of his speech, delivered in chaste Hindi, was lost on a large section of people in the absence of a translator.

Results of Nanjungud and Gundlupet by-elections on April 9, 2017

The Congress won emphatically in both places. While it won Nanjungud by 21,000 votes, it triumphed in Gundlupet by over 10,000 votes.

South vs North divide

The North is thriving; the South is eroding. The distance between the southern state capitals and the northern state capitals seems to be more than geographical. All the centres of power are up in the north and there is a feeling of often being outside the pale of things in relation to the enigma called New Delhi. If we simply take the aggregate state-level figures, the discrepancies are easily seen.

Dalit reservation

The Karnataka government will seek a constitutional amendment to ensure 70% reservation for SC/ST and OBC communities in education and public sector services.

Farmers’ distress

Comments made by the prime minister at a rally in Bengaluru, marking the end of the BJP’s 90-day Nava Nirman Parivarthan Yatra in Karnataka, portrayed his government as farmer-friendly, stating agrarian issues were the top priority for them.

A total 3,515 farmers in Karnataka committed suicide between April 2013 and November 2017, out of which 2,525 were due to drought and farm failure.


The BJP believes an alleged Rs 450 crore-plus coal scam and a steel flyover project scandal would hurt Siddaramaiah. But Yeddyurappa – a former chief minister elected in 2008 – was forced to step down in August 2011 amid corruption allegations levelled by Karnataka’s ombudsman or Lokayukta, Santosh Hegde. Yeddyurappa was accused of colluding in illegal iron-ore mining in the mineral-rich district of Bellary. In 2016, he was acquitted in case, where he was accused of accepting kickbacks worth Rs 40 crore. Thus the trading of corruption charges cuts both ways.


While Karnataka hasn’t outperformed the rest of the states in national rankings, it hasn’t scored poorly either. The Congress government’s mixed record perhaps explains why Siddaramaiah is banking on populist schemes such as Anna Bhagya (free rice), Cycle Bhagya, etc

The Mayawati factor

In February, BSP supremo Mayawati addressed a huge public rally in Bengaluru with Deve Gowda, announcing their decision to fight the polls jointly. Gowda had offered her 21 out of 224 seats and Mayawati promised to address at least six rallies during the campaign. However, she seems to have changed her mind now, following the outcome of the recent UP by-polls wherein the SP, with BSP’s tacit support, comfortably defeated the BJP. The BSP could possibly adopt a similar template for Karnataka in order to prevent a split of anti-BJP Dalit votes. This could lead to Congress benefitting at the expense of the JD(S).

Families contesting together


  1. Siddaramaiah (Chamundeshwari) and Yathindra (Varuna)
  2. Ramalinga Reddy (BTM Layout) and Sowmya Reddy (jayanagar)
  3. T.B. Jayachandra (Tumakuru) and Santosh (Chikkanayakanahalli)
  4. M. Krishnappa (Vijayanagar) and Priya Krishna (Govindaraj Nagar)
  5. Shamanur Shivashankarappa (Davangere South) and Shamanur Mallikarjun (Davangere North)
  6. K.H. Muniyappa (Kolar MP) and Roopa Shashikar (Kolar Gold Field)
  7. Leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and Priyank Kharge (Chittapur)


  1. While sitting MLA Shashikala Jolle got a BJP ticket to contest from Nippani, her husband Annasaheb will be standing from Chikkodi-Sadalaga.
  2. BJP has fielded Kumar Bangarappa, who defected from the Congress, to take on his younger brother Madhu, JD(S)’s sitting MLA from Sorab, Shimoga.
  3. The party has fielded the most controversial former minister and mining scam accused Janardhan Reddy’s brother Somashekara from Bellary City.


  1. Chief ministerial aspirant H.D. Kumaraswamy from Ramnagara and Sakleshpur, and his brother Revanna from Holenarasipura.
Vandana Seth is a research scholar specialising in electoral democracy.