Analyzing 2023 Karnataka Election Results


Jaya Bharata Jananiya Tanujate, Jaya he Karnataka Maate”– written by Kuvempu, which translates to ‘Victory to you Mother Karnataka, The Daughter of Mother India,’ there is an idealized vision of Karnataka as a state that acknowledges its place within the Indian union and promotes harmonious coexistence with its fellow states. However, this poetic portrayal stands in contrast to the complex political landscape of modern Karnataka. This is because especially in Karnataka it is said people do not cast a vote, they vote for their caste. Nevertheless, Karnataka, with its diverse population, has experienced significant political transformations in nearly every election. This research paper aims to examine the evolving political trends in Karnataka’s Assembly elections, with a specific focus on the 2018 and 2023 elections.

Analyzing the political trends in Karnataka’s Assembly Elections

Until November 1, 1956, Karnataka didn’t exist as a unified region. Instead, the areas where people spoke Kannada were divided into nineteen different parts.These were: 1. Bombay Province,2. Madras Province, 3. Princely State of Mysore, 4. Princely State of Hyderabad, 5. Chief Commissioner of Province of Coorg, 6. Princely State of Kolhapur, 7. Princely State of Sagnili, 8. Princely State of Miraj (Senior), 9. Princely State of Miraj (Junior), 10. Princely State of Kurandawad (Senior), 11. Princely State of Kurandawad (Junior), 12. Princely State of Jamakhandi, 13. Princely State of Mudhol, 14. Princely State of Ramadurg, 15. Princely State of Jath, 16. Princely State of Akkalkot, 17. Princely State of Aundh, 18. Princely State of Savanur, and 19.  Princely State of Sondur. Then, on November 1, 1956, a lot of the areas where people spoke Kannada were brought together to form a single region called New Mysore, which later became Karnataka.

In the 1950s and 1960s Mysore state at that time was the bastion of the grand old party of India, the Indian National Congress “INC” . Therefore earlier the party never really had to work hard to regain its power as it was its stronghold since the reorganization of the states in 1956. During the period from 1956 to 1972 in Karnataka (formerly known as Mysore State), the political landscape was largely shaped by the Indian National Congress party. The party held sway for most of this time. From 1956 to 1962, the Indian National Congress, under the leadership of Kengal Hanumanthaiah, held power. This was followed by a continued Congress leadership under S. Nijalingappa from 1962 to 1967. However, the political scene saw a temporary shift with President’s Rule from 1967 to 1969, a period marked by direct central government control due to political instability. The Indian National Congress regained power under the leadership of Veerendra Patil from 1969 to 1971.

After Mysore was renamed Karnataka in 1973, the INC continued to maintain control of the state government. When the Indian National Congress split in 1969 into Samstha- Indian National Congress (O) “O” stood for ‘Organization’ or ‘Old’ and Indira Congress (R) “R” stood for ‘Requisition’, Devaraj Urs sided with Indira Gandhi. He became the Chief Minister of Karnataka during the fifth Assembly, serving from 20 March 1972 to 31 December 1977. However, this era of uninterrupted governance by the INC faced a turning point with the emergence of the JP Movement. Jayaprakash Narayan, popularly known as JP, led a movement that aimed to address corruption, inequality, and mismanagement in politics.  This movement challenged the long-standing rule of the INC in Karnataka and other parts of India. Narayan and Desai established the Janata Morcha (People’s Front) in 1974, the precursor to the Janata Party. The political trajectory of Karnataka during the period from 1978 to 1988 was characterized by significant upheavals, leading to a profound transformation in the state’s political landscape.

In 1978, Devaraj Urs played a pivotal role in Indira Gandhi’s political comeback after the Emergency, helping her win the Chikkamagaluru by-election. However, by 1979, tensions emerged as a consequence of Sanjay Gandhi’s reentry into the Congress fold. This internal discord culminated in the bifurcation of Congress into Congress (Indira) and Congress (Urs). Devraj Urs then served for the second time from 17 March 1978 to 8 June 1980 during the sixth Assembly. He faced a vote of no confidence, but with more MLAs on his side, he proved his majority, holding onto power. He holds the record for being the longest-serving Chief Minister of Karnataka in terms of days in office. R. Gundu Rao served as a minister in the government of D. Devaraj Urs and later became the Chief Minister of Karnataka from 1980 to 1983 following the collapse of the Urs government.

In 1983, a major tectonic shift happened in Karnataka as it witnessed its first coalition government. The Janata Party, Kranti Ranga (led by Urs), and the BJP formed an alliance, with Ramakrishna Hegde becoming the Chief Minister. During this period, a failed poaching attempt occurred when C Byre Gowda accused Congress leader Veerappa Moily of offering him money to defect. Despite evidence in the form of a recorded conversation, the case was later dismissed due to authenticity concerns.

After the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984, Congress swept general elections, including in Karnataka (won 24 out of 28 seats). Taking responsibility for the loss, Ramakrishna Hegde dissolved the government in 1984, leading to fresh elections. In 1985, despite Congress’s parliamentary victory, once more the people of Karnataka brought the Janata Party into power (Hedge continued to be the Chief Minister) with a large majority who had earlier voted for Congress in the Parliamentary elections. During this time, Karnataka experienced its first instance of resort politics when Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister NT Rama Rao sought help from Hegde to save his government. Rama Rao succeeded in the floor test.

Ramakrishna Hegde resigned in 1988 amid corruption allegations and was replaced by SR Bommai. Bommai’s tenure saw significant political developments and a court case that set legal precedents for future crises. The Janata Party merged with Lok Dal to form Janata Dal in September 1988. However, within the same month, defection and withdrawal of support letters led to the dismissal of Bommai’s government. This event marked the famous SR Bommai vs. Union case, a landmark Supreme Court decision that imposed restrictions on the use of Article 356 to prevent its misuse.

By the early 1990s, there was a growing sentiment among the electorate for an alternative to the Congress-led government. The Congress had been facing criticism on various fronts, including governance issues, unemployment, poverty, inflation, and allegations of corruption. Moreover, the frequent use of “President’s rule” to remove opposition-led state governments was seen as authoritarian. The 1994 elections witnessed a significant shift in voter sentiment. There was an increasing demand for more transparent and accountable governance. In this election, Janata Dal (S) secured a triumphant win, capturing a majority of 115 seats, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) secured 40 seats, and the Indian National Congress secured 34 seats. Following its victory, the Janata Dal formed the government in Karnataka. H. D. Deve Gowda became the Chief Minister, leading the state with a mandate for change and reform. Two significant takeaways from this election were: first, the once-mighty Congress was reduced to just 34 seats; and second, the Lotus of the BJP finally bloomed in Karnataka, led by B S Yeddyurappa, spearheading the BJP to become the second largest party. This marked the point from which Karnataka Politics evolved into a three-way battle for power.

The 2004 Karnataka election marked a significant turning point as it tested the hypothesis of equal performance by three major parties: the INC, BJP, and JD(S). This anticipation was validated with the BJP securing 79 seats, Congress securing 65, and JD(S) securing 58. The election resulted in a hung assembly, drawing attention to JD(S) as the pivotal player in the formation of the government. Given the scenario, JD(S) earned the title of “kingmakers,” symbolizing their crucial role in deciding the subsequent political direction. The post-election alliance between the Congress and JD(S) became significant, forming a coalition government under Dharam Singh‘s leadership until 2006. However, the coalition government eventually collapsed, and HD Kumaraswamy succeeded Singh. During his tenure, Kumaraswamy faced allegations of corruption, leading to his resignation. Subsequently, the President’s rule was imposed for over 30 days. After this period, B. S. Yeddyurappa took up the role of chief minister in 2007. However, his tenure lasted only seven days, as the President’s rule was reinstated, lasting for 189 days until the subsequent elections were held. These events highlighted the political instability and shifting leadership dynamics within Karnataka during this period.

In 2008 for the first time in the political history of Karnataka, the Lotus of BJP bloomed like never before, as the party formed the government with a victory of 110 seats. Although falling just three seats short of an absolute majority, the party strategically forged an alliance with six independent candidates to secure the necessary support. Conducted in three phases on May 10, May 16, and May 22, 2008, the polls brought about a transformative change in the state’s governance.BS Yeddyurappa assumed the role of Chief Minister, marking a significant turning point. However, his tenure was marked by controversy, and he ultimately resigned in 2011 due to corruption charges. Following Yeddyurappa’s resignation, DV Sadananda Gowda took the helm in 2011, followed by Jagadish Shettar from 2012 until 2013.

The 2013 elections witnessed a fractured mandate. The BJP’s tally dropped to 40 seats due to internal party issues and anti-incumbency factors. The Congress made a resurgence by securing 122 seats, forming the government under Siddaramaiah’s leadership. JD(S) secured 40 seats, leading to a strong opposition presence. During these elections, several factors influenced voter decisions. Local issues, leadership qualities, and coalition dynamics played pivotal roles. The rise of regional parties, especially JD(S), as kingmakers highlighted the significance of alliances in achieving a majority. However, within JD(S), there appeared to be a noticeable aspiration to assume a position of power this time.

Analyzing the 2018 Karnataka Assembly Elections

The 2018 Karnataka Assembly election resulted in a situation where no party secured a clear majority, leading to a hung assembly. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged as the largest single party with 104 seats, while the Congress won the popular vote. Despite this, the BJP, under the leadership of Yeddyurappa, decided to form the government based on being the largest single party, even though  Congress and JD(S) formed a post-election alliance that had a majority.

The appointed Governor extended a 15-day window for the incoming government to demonstrate its legislative majority—a move criticized by the opposition for perceived favoritism towards the BJP. However, the Supreme Court intervened and reduced the time window to 3 days. Ultimately, Chief Minister Yeddyurappa resigned just 10 minutes before the scheduled trust vote.

Subsequently, the INC-JD(S) coalition came together to form the government, with HD Kumaraswamy as the Chief Minister. This coalition government lasted for about 14 months before facing internal strife. Over a span of 2 days, 16 legislators from the ruling coalition resigned, and 2 independent MLAs switched their support to the BJP. This altered the balance, reducing the coalition’s majority to 101 seats and giving the BJP 107 seats. After weeks of political turmoil, HD Kumaraswamy faced a trust vote in the assembly on July 23, 2019, which he lost by a margin of 100–107. As a result, he resigned as Chief Minister. On July 26, 2019, B.S. Yediyurappa again took the oath as Chief Minister of Karnataka. This marked a transition of power from the INC-JD(S) coalition to the BJP.

Effective Campaign Strategies

The BJP executed a meticulous three-tier strategy, effectively utilizing various levels of campaign engagement. Spearheaded by Amit Shah, the party strategically orchestrated a comprehensive campaign approach, from social media to grassroots mobilization. This approach extended to a staggering 20,000 WhatsApp groups created by the BJP’s cyber cell, connecting with the electorate and fostering interaction. A remarkable strength was its tireless booth-level campaigning, even in remote areas. 

The BJP’s grassroots campaign resonated well due to its strong connection with the local leadership. The party’s foot soldiers tirelessly engaged in door-to-door canvassing and engaged with voters, while the Congress faced a shortfall in grassroots efforts. This discrepancy enabled the BJP to maintain a strong presence even in rural and remote regions, a significant factor in its success.

BJP harnessed the influence of key leaders to bolster its campaign. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, often referred to as the ‘Brahmastra,’ along with party strategist Amit Shah and Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath, lent their charisma and energy in the campaign’s final stages. Adityanath’s rapport with prominent Lingayat leaders played a positive role.

Narratives that dominated 2018 Karnataka Assembly Elections

Agrarian Crisis

The Siddaramaiah government’s tenure in Karnataka was significantly marked by the issue of farm distress. Over the period between April 2013 and November 2017, a distressing number of 3,515 farmers took their own lives in the state. The agricultural department acknowledged that 2,525 of these deaths were a result of drought and crop failure. A closer examination of the 2013 electoral map reveals that the agrarian crisis had the most pronounced impact on districts such as Bagalkot, Raichur, Shivammonga, Gulbarga, Bellary, Bijapur, Dharwad, Koppal, Mandya, and Belgavi. Notably, in the 2013 elections, Congress secured 40 out of 74 seats in these distressed areas.

The BJP’s compelling focus on addressing the agrarian crisis played a pivotal role in securing a larger number of seats in the Karnataka elections.  During the campaign, the party adeptly spotlighted the decline in rural incomes, a pressing concern that had not been adequately addressed during Siddaramaiah’s tenure with the Congress government. The data from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) starkly demonstrated the significant drop in crop production, affecting essential commodities like rice, wheat, cereals, foodgrains, oilseeds, cotton, and sugarcane by 20-38% between 2013-14 and 2016-17.

The issue of farmers’ distress and the tragic spate of farmer suicides was a central theme of the BJP’s narrative. Amit Shah, the BJP President, led the charge, accusing Siddaramaiah’s Congress administration of neglecting the farming community and adopting an “anti-farmer” stance. The BJP’s assertion that 3,781 farmers had lost their lives in the span of four-and-a-half years in Karnataka due to these challenges drew public attention.

The BJP artfully aligned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “farmer-friendly” schemes as vital solutions to the crisis. Included in its manifesto, the BJP pledged a loan waiver of Rs 1 lakh from both nationalized and cooperative banks, along with a substantial allocation of Rs 1.5 lakh crore for irrigation projects. By articulating these farmer-centric initiatives and highlighting their potential to ensure a brighter future for the agricultural community, the BJP struck a chord with a significant portion of the electorate.

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Author: Mansi Pol