People of Karnataka will vote on April 18 and 23, the second and third phases of the seven-phase April-May national elections. There are 28 Lok Sabha seats in the state — 14 parliamentary constituencies in South Karnataka will go to polls on April 18, while the remaining 14 constituencies in North Karnataka will go to polls on April 23. In the last Lok Sabha polls in 2014, the BJP won 17. In 2009, the saffron party won 19; in 2004, it won 18. This means that for several years from now, the BJP has been keeping its dominant position in Karnataka.
The one key factor in the BJP’s successful run in the Lok Sabha polls in Karnataka since 2004 is the support base it has found in the single largest community in the state — the Lingayats. — Lingayats make up 17 per cent of the population and are spread across seats in north Karnataka. With the Narendra Modi factor cementing the support base since 2014, the Lingayat community remains firmly in the BJP camp.
Political observers say that the ground reality in Karnataka ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls is that the BJP is not expected to lose much ground despite its main rivals — the Congress and JD(S) —forging an alliance. In the first phase, the coalition enjoys a clear edge because the saffron party does not have much of a presence in most southern constituencies other than the coastal seats of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi-Chikmagalur. The Vokkaligas, the dominant community of the southern districts and traditional rivals of the Lingayats, are firm supporters of the JD(S). Among backward classes, Dalits and minorities, the Congress has a strong base. The second phase of the polls will witness a more direct battle between the Congress and the BJP where the BJP relies heavily on its Lingayat vote base and the Congress is confident on a consolidation of its backward classes, Dalits and minority vote base to achieve victories.
Issues such as the Modi factor and nationalism are likely to have their biggest influence in seats in three coastal districts — Dakshin Kannada, Udupi-Chikmagalur and Uttara Kannada — and to some extent in urban seats in cities such as Bengaluru. In these constituencies, the BJP has a huge Hindutva cadre base and the electorate is polarized on religious lines.
In 2014, the BJP polled 43.37 per cent of votes to win 17 seats while the Congress polled 41.15 per cent of the votes and won nine seats and the JD(S) polled 11.07 per cent and won two seats in south Karnataka. “The pro-Modi wave that was prevalent during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections has increased by at least 15 per cent ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections,’’ says BJP state president and former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa, the Lingayat face of the party. However, in the 2018 Assembly elections, the BJP polled only 36.43 per cent of votes.
The ruling Congress-JD(S) coalition is beset with dissidents and factions, despite looking formidable on paper due to the joining of forces by the Vokkaliga community of Deve Gowda and the Kuruba backward class community of Siddaramaiah. The Congress and JD(S) are contesting in 21 and 7 Lok Sabha seats, respectively. However, dissidence within the Congress may hamper the prospects of the coalition in Karnataka. It is to be noted that both parties had fought bitterly against each other ahead of the May 2018 assembly polls. In a post-poll arrangement, they joined hands to form the government and kept the BJP, the largest single party, at bay.