Although there was no visible anti-incumbency on the ground, one could sense an indication that Siddaramaiah’s welfare schemes had not clicked, analysts said.
Bengaluru: There are important lessons for the Congress in the way the BJP has stolen the march on it in Karnataka despite predictions that the elections would be a close contest.
For one, their bid to play on religious sentiments failed to strike a chord with voters, amid a perception in some quarters that the minority tag for the Lingayats was brought in with ‘divisive undertones’.
Secondly, the party missed out on the booth-level consolidation that has emerged as the BJP’s coup de grâce in its advent as India’s dominant political force since 2014.
Here are the reasons that cost Siddaramaiah the election despite his government’s series of welfare schemes.
The ‘Lingayat logic’ failed
On the threshold of the election, the Siddaramaiah government moved the Centre with a request to recognise the Lingayats as a separate religion, a demand that draws a mixed response from the community.
It was a massive gamble aimed at wooing the Lingayats away from their traditional favourite, the BJP. At roughly 17 per cent of the state’s population, the community is believed to influence the outcome in at least 100 of Karnataka’s 224 assembly constituencies.
The bid seems to have failed miserably, with many voters unsure how the move would help them.
The North Karnataka region, where the majority of the Lingayat votes are concentrated, has voted against the decision. The Veerashaiva-Lingayats seem to have effectively consolidated their votes against Siddaramaiah by convincing people through the mutts (religious centres) that it was a blatant attempt to divide them.
The huge support for the BJP among the Lingayats in the Old Mysuru region, not a traditional bastion for the party, also confirms that the Vokkaligas and the Lingayats consolidated against Siddaramaiah and voted against him with a vengeance.
Interestingly, the Lingayat issue was not a poll plank spoken openly about by the three parties. It all came down to emotions, and how the anti-Congress message was propagated silently and effectively.
The anti-incumbency trend
This definitely has come as a surprise for Siddaramaiah and the Congress, despite the state’s 30-year trend of not voting a party back into the government.
Poll analyst Madan Mohan said there was no visible anti-incumbency on the ground among voters, but one could sense an indication that Siddaramaiah’s welfare schemes had not clicked.
“One cannot deny the fact that Modi has played a very important role in swinging the votes in favour of the BJP. It is more of a Modi win, rather than a Yeddyurappa win,” he added.
The ‘AHINDA’ factor
Siddaramaiah has always prided himself on the AHINDA (a Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits) vote bank and how they have backed him through his political career.
But this time around, the AHINDA votes seem to have scattered, especially with the Vokkaligas and the Lingayats consolidating against him.
Siddaramaiah realised as much in the run-up to counting day, and began sending feelers that, in the event of a Congress win, he was open to vacating the CM’s chair for a Dalit candidate.
Done in by spurned friends
Siddaramaiah’s behaviour towards friends within the Congress has also had a major role to play.
For example, in the Old Mysuru region, his decades-long friendship with A.H. Vishwanath, an influential Kuruba leader (the CM is also a Kuruba), ensured the community’s support for him. Vishwanath was also responsible for bringing former JD(S) leader Siddaramaiah into the Congress.
But the two subsequently fell apart over Siddaramaiah’s alleged neglect of the community, and the chief minister reportedly sidelined Vishwanath. The latter subsequently joined the JD(S) last year and vowed to ensure the Congress’ defeat in the region.
Another close associate, Srinivas Prasad, was reportedly distanced and dumped for his attempt to seek a deputy chief ministerial post. He went on to join the BJP, and actively campaigned against Siddaramaiah among the Vokkaligas.
Lack of money power
A series of income tax raids on local “Congress money bags” reportedly left the party short of campaign cash. The Congress called the raids a “political conspiracy”, and questioned the timing of the raids.
Those targeted included power minister D.K. Shivakumar. Closer to the polling date, the department conducted raids at a resort in Badami where Congress leaders were lodged to help in the campaign. The resort belonged to Anand Singh, a former BJP MLA who crossed over to the Congress recently.
Siddaramaiah had said at the time that Modi and Shah were trying to “threaten him using the IT department but will not succeed”.