Polls have closed and counting is underway in the high profile Karnataka state legislative elections. This race has attracted high profile attention as it is being held on the eve of next year’s general elections in 2024. Currently the right-leaning Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the ruling party of India and Karnataka, and they are currently under the threat of losing the elections to their rival, the left-leaning Indian National Congress (Congress Party), which was previously the ruling party of Karnataka at the start of the term but resulted in the collapse of their government within a year. A third party which is a key stakes player, the Janata Dal Secular (JD(S)) party, is on track to bagging 20-35 seats within the chamber.
Political Events in Karnataka
In the previous elections in 2018, BJP emerged as the largest party, resulting in the defeat of Congress Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who is now the opposition leader. However, the regional party JD(S) formed an alliance with the Congress Party, allowing the state to be governed and controlled by the left leaning party, and the state party leader of J(S), H.C. Kumaraswamy, became the state’s Chief Minister. However, things took a turn in 2019 when members of the Congress Party and JD(S) defected to the BJP, and as per the Indian Constitution, switching to another party requires you to resign. In total, 17 state legislators defected and resigned, resulting in the collapse of the Congress-led government. This situation led to by-elections (what those in the US would refer to as “special elections” in the US”) to fill in the vacant seats, and these elections resulted in BJP securing a clear majority in the chamber, thus giving them the mandate, and resulting the break up of the Congress and JD(S) alliance.
BJP elected B.S. Yediyurappa as the Chief Minister. His tenure lasted for two years, until ultimately resigning on July 28, 2021, and since then Basavaraj Bommai has been the Chief Minister.
In the months leading up to this election, it is pertinent to mention that several members of the BJP have defected to the Congress Party, with notable members including former Karnataka Chief Minister Jagdish Shettar leaving the BJP for Congress.
It is no stranger that communal violence has been a polarizing issue in India, and during the term of the BJP, the state fell victim to this issue. Last year in February and March 2022, there were several institutions in the state of Karnataka, colleges and universities, which implemented a ban on female Muslim students from entering the premises unless they remove their hijab, which school authorities stated was against the uniform code. As the issue began spreading to several institutions and denying entry to many Muslim female students, the state government issued an order concurring with the uniform codes, stating that an exception cannot be made to the hijab and students must comply with the orders of the school.
After appealing to the Karnataka High Court on behalf of the Muslim students arguing that their Constitutional rights were violated, the high court, nonetheless, upheld the orders of the state government. This controversy gained media attention and became high profile not only in India, but within the Islamic community with many condemning the BJP government, however, many right wing Hindu nationalists praised this move.
Additionally, the BJP has been criticized by their rival, the Congress Party, for promoting religious division and accusing them of promoting the issue of “love jihad”, and making the Hijab controversial, along with attempting to boycott Muslim run shops and harassment of Christian and Muslim minorities.
Belagavi Border Dispute
Karnataka, a state located in South India with a population of over 61 million, shares its border with the Maharashtra State, and for a long time now both states have a border dispute issue, in which the government of Maharashtra claims the Belagavi district is part of state keeping in view that not only does it have a Marati majority, the dominant ethnic group of Maharashtra, and the fact that it used to be part of the state during the British colonial era until the district was given to Karnataka after achieving its independence.
This issue escalated in December 2022 when the Legislative Assembly of Maharashtra unanimously passed a resolution to merge the district, along with other Marati speaking cities that belong to Karnataka, which had escalated into violence. The opposition has demanded Chief Minister Bommai’s resignation over this matter.
BJP Campaign and Promises
On October 11, 2022, the BJP initiated campaigning in the state. They campaign and rallied in 52 districts with former Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa and current Chief Minister Bommai being the lead front of the campaigning. In the close of events, Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a visit to the state, conducting several road rallies. During the campaign, the BJP catered into their voter base and has been accused of making hate speeches towards Muslims by advocating to strip the 4% reservation quota on Muslims, advocating for a new controversial film “The Kerala Story”, attempting to ban cattle slaughter and downplaying historical facts about Tipu Sultan, then a very powerful King from South India. In their manifesto, the BJP has made the following promises:
- Implementing the National Register of Citizens (NRC), a law that requires the documentation of all legal citizens and identifying illegal immigrants to be detained. This came under controversy in 2019 when the BJP passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which denied Muslim refugees and immigrants from attaining automatic citizenship.
- Implementation of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC), which was at the forefront of the Karnataka Hijab Ban
- Half a litre of Nandini milk everyday to all those living below the poverty line
- Giveaway of three free cooking gas cylinders to families living below the poverty line
- Free 5 kg of wheat and millets respectively every month
Congress Party Campaign and Promises
The Congress started their campaign with the notable “Bharat Jodo Yatra” (lit Unite India March). This was a national campaign/movement in which the Congress marched all across India from its southernmost tip and marched all the way up to Kashmir, the northernmost state. This march covered 14 states including 2 union territories, Delhi and Jammu Kashmir, and Karnataka was one of the states included in their rally, entering on September 30, 2022. The rallies drew large crowds and their presence in Karnataka gave huge momentum and spot light to the Congress Party, which was extremely important for them considering that they have been losing national and state elections since 2014, which has lead to the downfall of what was once the major ruling party of India for most of India’s independence since 1947. In their manifesto, the Congress Party has promised:
- Restoration of the 4% reservation quota for Muslim minorities
- Free bus service for women
- Investing 1.5 million rupees in agriculture and incomplete projects within the sector
- Investing 50 million rupees in village infrastructure
- Investing 10,000 million rupees for minorities and preserving the right to worship
- Investing 1,000 million rupees in welfare funds for senior citizens
- Enacting a ban on hate organizations
Janata Dal (Secular) Campaign and Promises
The JD(S), which is a third party and has remained as a minority party, has campaigned in the state since November 2022 in the old Mysore region. In its manifesto, the party has promised:
- Restoration of the 4% reservation quota for Muslim minorities
- Free bicycles for high school students
- 6,000 rupees allowance for pregnant women
- 2,000 rupees allowance for auto rickshaw drivers and security guards
- 2,000 rupees subsidies for agricultural laborers
- Increasing incentives for for milk producers by 2 rupees
- Five free Liquefied Petroleum Gas cylinders per year
Before the elections were held, polls showed that the Congress Party is favored to win the most seats and achieve the highest percentage of votes. Seat projections have fluctuated between a clear majority for the formation of the Congress government to being a hung state assembly, hence forcing the party into forming a coalition. However, in the lead up to the elections, a few polls have projected the BJP would once again be able to win the most amount of seats barely and narrowly achieve the most amount of vote percentage over the Congress Party.
With the elections now over, exit polls have mostly suggested a hung assembly, with a few projecting a clear majority for the Congress Party. If this is the situation, the JD(S) becomes a key player, as they were in the previous elections.
Looks like results will be released on Saturday.