Karnataka elections
With surveys predicting a close election, campaigning has reached a peak in the last five days. Karnataka will go to polls on May 10.

Six reasons why Karnataka election is important for India's polity

The dictionary meaning of ‘cliche’ is a phrase or idea that has been used so often that it no longer has any real meaning. To suggest that the Karnataka election is extremely important for India’s polity may fall in that category as of late, every election is fought furiously.

And yet the importance and significance of Karnataka Assembly elections cannot be understated. Here are six reasons why the polls, whose high-pitched campaign ended on Monday, hold significance for India’s polity and its future.


Traditionally Karnataka, like other Southern neighbours, is perceived as a well-governed state. The removal of ageing BS Yeddyurappa as chief minister and installing Basvaraj Bommai as his replacement has dealt a heavy blow to this notion. Bommai is widely seen as ineffective and weak. He was seen as a bumbling ruler from the word go, at best, a stop-gap arrangement who would soon be replaced. But as time went by, it was clear that he was brought in to push the hardline agenda of the party, which was being resisted by the old, Vajpayee-era politicians, such as Yeddyurappa.

Yeddyurappa, despite his saffron hues, was seen as conciliatory towards minorities, while Bommai had no such qualms.

For instance, when two persons from a minority community were killed during the CAA riots, Yeddy, who was then the chief minister, announced Rs 10 lakh compensation but had to withdraw following disapproval by Hindutva groups.

Bommai, on the other hand, went to the house of Praveen Nettaru, who, too, died during communal violence. He consoled the family and offered them compensation, a job and a house. The case was handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which held the Popular Front of India (PFI) responsible, and it led to its ban.

Bommai was also seen as ineffective in implementing government schemes and programmes. News reports suggest an increase in complaints of corruption by government officials, and therefore Congress party’s jibe “40 per cent sarkara” or 40 per cent commission charged by officials for public works struck. The chief minister could not shrug off this image since.


After spectacular successes in the North, the Bharatiya Janata Party is itching to make a serious dent in the politics of South. Karnataka was seen as a gateway, but in a turnstile kind of politics where the incumbent makes way for the challenger, the BJP’s worry is that it could be stopped in its tracks for a repeat win. The party is keen to take its Hindutva philosophy, built over the years, to its logical end. The shrill campaign of BJP, which included Prime Minister Narendra Modi evoking “Jai Bajrangbali’ in his campaign speeches and Yogi Adityanath trying a cultural connect saying UP’s Lord Ram and Karnataka’s Hanuman were intimately linked, are clear indicators. The Congress party’s promise of imposing a ban on Bajrang Dal in its election manifesto came in handy for the saffron party and its leaders who mounted a scathing attack accusing Congress of appeasing Muslims through PFI, ignoring the fact that the manifesto had sought PFI’s ban as well.

The halal, the hijab and controversies such as isolating and preventing shopkeepers who belonged to minority communities from selling items used in Hindu pujas etc., added to communal polarisation. While BJP took away 4 per cent Muslim reservation within the OBC community, the Congress party’s promise of its restoration, if voted to power, was used deftly by the saffron party to accuse Congress of playing a policy of appeasement. All these calculations are aimed at ‘Hindu-ising’ the electorate and breaking the caste equations of the state and uniting them under the broad Hindutva umbrella.

BJP’s caste calculations

The BJP’s campaign managers have been working on the caste matrix of the state and the results will reveal its efficacy. The Lingayats have supported BJP for the last few decades, but since that alone wasn’t enough, the party has been trying to break into rival formations such as Vokkaligas and into larger Dalit groupings for increased support. To achieve this, the Bommai government proposed the abolition of the 4 per cent Muslim reservation quota and its division between Lingayats and Vokkaligas. It also enhanced the overall share of Dalits in jobs and education. While the Supreme Court frowned at the decision, the BJP is keen to use it as a weapon to strike against Congress which has promised to restore the Muslim reservation if elected. Calling it appeasement politics, the BJP has raised a question of whether that meant taking away the enhanced reservation of Lingayats and Vokkaligas.

Regional distribution 

Karnataka’s politics is divided into six distinct regions and each one has its unique characteristics. Parts of erstwhile Mumbai State, Hyderabad Nizam, were merged into Mysore state to form Karnataka as a state on linguistic lines. While language was sought to be a new identity, it hasn’t fully integrated the regional sentiments. Therefore Mumbai Karnataka, Hyderabad Karnataka, Coastal Karnataka, and the central and Mysore regions have their individualities. While the BJP is strong in coastal Karnataka, Janata Dal(Secular) has a tight grip in the Mysore region. The Congress has its presence in various pockets. Northern parts of Karnataka have more Lingayat presence. The fortunes of BJP and Congress have been changing in some of these regions and the attempt of the saffron party is to bridge these gaps and unify all Hindus under a broad ‘Hindutva’ umbrella.

Narratives and perceptions

The saffron party has been building various narratives to strengthen its base in the state. Narendra Modi chose to attack the Congress, saying it had used ‘Garibi Hatao’ only as a slogan ignoring the fact that India’s poverty rates have actually been coming down since the 1991 economic reforms, irrespective of regime changes. The Congress was presented as a party that ignored and even allowed terror groups to take deep roots in society. To buttress his argument, Modi even hailed the newly released controversial movie ‘The Kerala Story’. His deputy Amit Shah launched a more frontal attack accusing the Congress of working on an agenda proposed by PFI.

Modi’s charisma 

The 34-km road show of Modi spread over the weekend in Bengaluru was to woo the electorate in the IT capital of India and spread its message to the rest of Karnataka. The saffron party believes that, ultimately, it is the personal appeal of Modi that would overcome all other hurdles it is facing in its quest to capture power in the state. This will put to the test the Karnataka electorate, otherwise considered a discerning one, that would make a distinction between an Assembly and a Parliamentary election.

In the final analysis, the question is whether Karnataka would retain its identity as a moderate region or flip to become a saffron state akin to Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat? Much rides on the May 10 contest and, therefore, its fallout on the 2024 parliamentary polls.

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