The planning for the battle of 2019 parliamentary election is speedily heating up. The assembly elections in Karnataka, Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh in 2018 may become a pointer to the public mood at large and lead to more reliable predictions about the 2019 parliamentary elections.
The elections in Karnataka may be a more suitable indicator for 2019 than the elections in the Hindi belt. BJP had unprecedented success in the states of UP, MP, Rajasthan, Haryana, Chhattisgarh and Delhi. While in Karnataka, Congress did not do so badly in comparison to its performance in the Hindi belt. Even in the height of the Modi wave it was not a clean sweep for BJP here.
Karnataka assumes importance because it is the only southern state with a strong BJP presence and in the past the Sanghparivar was successful in polarizing voters along religious lines. This led to BJP forming a government on its own in the state.
MP, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, HP, Uttarakhand and Delhi robbed the Congress of its seats in the parliament and presented it to BJP. These states have seen many direct contests between BJP and Congress and therefore are more predictable, while states like Maharshtra, UP, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha are as difficult to predict as Karnataka.
The indicators available at the ground level, news reports and visible signs of desperation in the tone of BJP leaders suggest that Karnataka will not prove to be such easy game for BJP this time round. Siddaramaiah has successfully run the government without any major scam or event that could reflect on its incumbency in a negative way.
It seems BJP in the state is not as cohesive a force as it is in Gujarat, Assam or Chhattisgarh. It more resembles the BJP in Maharashtra, Rajasthan or Haryana. In these states there is visible discord among the party cadres and regional leaders. In Karnataka BJP primarily faces the dilemma of being seen as a Lingayat-centric party controlled by Yeddyurappa, though it has the support of some upper castes. Another problem BJP faces is the lack of any other leader of the stature of Yeddyurappa. There are Ananth Kumars and Gowdas but they don’t appear to have as much grip on the workers as Yeddyurappa has, and they lack the charisma that Yeddyurappa still commands. Therefore some of the state BJP leaders seem to be disenchanted and minus the regular enthusiasm of BJP members and leaders in other elections.
Congress, on the other hand, is better placed to take on the onslaught unleashed by Modi and Amit Shah. Siddaramaiah may have learnt from the BJP conundrum and was able to create a second strong faction within the Lingayats, who are not loyal to Yeddyurappa or BJP. The very identity politics played by BJP and Sangh Parivar for decades is becoming its undoing in Karnataka. A strong group of Lingayats is now seen opposing the BJP. If this comes true during polls, BJP will surely face a major challenge and Congress will gain at its expense.
One important factor in Karnataka is the Janata Dal Secular JD (S). It primarily represents Vokkaliga, another dominant caste in the state of Karnataka. In the last assembly elections JD(S) bagged more seats than BJP. If Lingayat votes get evenly divided between BJP and Congress then JD(S) has a good chance of winning more seats than it is expected to win at this time. One factor, which can alter many equations and calculations, is the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI). SDPI is primarily a party of Muslims, though it claims to be a party representing all religious groups. It has been growing in strength and popularity for the past couple of years. If JD(S) combines with SDPI and it brings a big chunk of Muslims votes to the combination it will pose a challenge to Congress’ game plan. This may lead to a hung assembly and bring strange bed fellows together as politics has always been famous for.
In the absence of a clear majority to any one single party, if BJP and JD(S) combine to form the government in the state it may lead to further erosion of seats for Congress in the 2019 parliamentary elections. However, if Congress and JD(S) join hands in the assembly then it may lead to reduced seats for BJP in 2019. But the bigger impact will be in the states where third groups other than BJP and Congress are strong. Realigning of forces in UP, Bihar Jharkhand under the leadership of Congress at the national level will then pose a real threat to Modi’s hopes of returning to power. Another impact may be that BJP’s allies in states like Maharashtra, Andhra and Assam will exert additional pressure to extract more seats for themselves.
Therefore the Karnataka results will provide more dependable indicators in assessing and predicting possibilities in 2019. They will also prove to be a better base in taking stock of the chances of the UPA and the NDA rather than only Congress and BJP by themselves.
Nawed Akhter is a filmmaker and political analyst based in Gurgaon. The views expressed in this article are personal.