KarnatakaElections: Would the spectre of a JDS-BJP Coalition Spook Off Voters???

Friday, April 20, 2018

Even as candidates are still being finalized and the three contending parties - Congress, JDS & BJP - are fire fighting rebellion within their respective ranks arising from the lists already released, we are noticing two inter-related trends in the news flow. 

The first trend is an apparent attempt to condition public perception that Karnataka is heading for a hung house and the prospect of a JDS-BJP coalition as a virtual inevitability. Seen above is the screen shot taken from a local Kannada channel that gave a whopping 73% probability to the prospect of a JDS-BJP coalition outcome and only 27% to a Congress-JDS one. Never mind Nate Silver, a global election analyst icon, gave only 25% odd probability for Donald Trump to be President of the US and overnight found his iconic status heavily battered when Trump beat the odds to win the Presidency!

A local Kannada channel went a step further in a blatantly partisan manner to openly create public perception that a JDS-BJP coalition is even a more desirable political outcome than a Congress outright win!. 

The second trend is the unleashing of a spate of pre-polls by local Kannada channels, all projecting a hung house. Interestingly, all of them however project the Congress in a pole position, mostly 10-15 seats short of majority, with BJP breathing down their necks with around 80-85 seats. Invariably most of these media houses are overtly anti-Congress in their editorial line. 

One of the most rabidly anti-Congress local channel is PublicTV which projected the Congress very narrowly leading with 85-95 seats (image to the right)). In 2013,  PublicTV similarly projected the Congress with only 101 seats (image to left), but the Congress ended up with 126 seats! So these channels have a track record of selling Congress short and BJP long. Most of them use pollsters who are mostly nondescript and with methodology highly suspect. 

So who are fueling these perceptions where pre-polls are apparently used as a political campaign weaponry? 

It is difficult to tell as all three leading contenders seem to be contributing their mite to create this perception. 


A month ago, Rahul Gandhi's surprising broadside “JD(S) is BJP’s B Team,” had political commenters in a tipsy unable to fathom his unexpected outburst. 

"Earlier 'S' in JD(S) stood for secular but in this election they have got a new name JDS-Janata Dal Sangh Parivar.  This is a face-off between two ideologies -- on one side BJP and RSS and on the other the Congress. In between there is third party which is the B team of BJP that is JD (S). I will tell you. Let BJP's A team, B team or C team come together. Congress party is going to win this election," Rahul Gandhi thundered at Malavalli, in Mandya district.  

According to sources, this statement was a carefully timed & crafted one than an off the cuff remark. Yet it confounded logic. If at all Karnataka was heading to a hung house, logically the Congress should be aiming to be at the right side of JDS in order to create the right atmosphere to strike a post-poll alliance and not by burning bridges with the latter. 

So what are imperatives that prompt the Congress to take on the JD(S)?

According to the political grapevine, the Congress government received intelligence reports on signals about JD(S)’ decision to the go with BJP, in case of a hung Assembly. These reports indicated that JDS and BJP have held a series of meetings to arrive at a tactical understanding both under the pre and post-poll scenario.  Some of these reports suggest that both parties have struck agreement on having a tactical understanding in a few constituencies, while others suggest that these tactical understanding entered into are much more broader, covering the entire state. The basic understanding was to transfer votes to each other's stronger candidate against the Congress.

Significantly, Rahul Gandhi's diatribe was made in the Old Mysuru region where the Vokkaligas are the single largest community which is incidentally also JDS core voter constituency. But Vokkaligas though a major chunk is only part of JDS traditional vote share. Another part is constituted by non-Vokkliga, secular votes, particularly Muslims. If indeed BJP and JDS had entered into a mutually beneficial vote transfer tacit understanding, this could pose a thorn for the Congress. Hence Rahul Gandhi's warning to the non-Vokkaliga, secular vote constituency.

Senior JD(S) leaders accuse Congress of unfairly branding the JD(S) as being anti-Muslim. “By projecting JD(S) as the ‘team B’ of the BJP, a Hindutva party, the Congress is trying to take away the Muslim votes from the JD(S) in the Old Mysuru region,” said a JD(S) leader.  Also, among the JD(S) leaders poached by the Congress are senior Muslim leaders like Zameer Ahmed Khan and Iqbal Ansari, leaving the party with hardly any significant Muslim face.

Without the Muslim vote, even if BJP transfers votes to JDS in the Old Mysuru region, it can at best maintain JDS current vote share, not increase this due to the erosion of non-Vokkaliga, secular votes.


It's an open secret that the BJP expects JDS to cut into “secular votes”  particularly the Muslims, Dalit and  OBC that may help the BJP.  Accordingly, it is not surprising to find the BJP not at all coy about speculations regarding a tacit understanding with JDS. 

Yedduruppa refrained from attacking Kumaraswamy, leader of JDS in an interview despite many penetrating probes by the interviewer raised the level of speculations further. 

Shah fueled this even further during his visit to Mysuru when he publicly warned the Congress that they would receive the "biggest shock of their lives” in the May 12 Assembly elections in the Mysuru Region. Some political commenters  were inclined to think that crafty Shah tactically had an entirely different purpose by making this warning. The calculations were to induce the Congress to concentrate on Mysuru region wherein BJP is weak at the cost of relaxing their focus on rest of the state where the battle was mainly between the Congress and BJP. This would be give BJP prospects a big boost in regions such as Hyderabad Karnataka or Mumbai Karnataka.

Not to be left behind, Kumaraswamy added to the rumor mill by this statement:

"Secularism that I have believed so far is having faith and respect for one’s religious beliefs while retaining equal respect for other religions. However the secularism you believe is in appeasing minorities for the sake of votes while overlooking them for centuries assuming that they are in your pocket. Today, your party is on the verge of extinction because of your behavior of ignoring the majority,"

The Congress in recent months have succeeded in controlling the narrative that they are not only winning a second term but will do so with an increased majority. But logically they can do so this, if at all, by only marginalising both the BJP & JDS. Accordingly, both the latter parties have a deeply vested interest in propagating an alternate narrative of a hung house to enable them to remain in public perception as serious contenders in the race. 

Images of JDS-BJP Coalition Spooking Off Voters??

It is not as if a JDS-BJP coalition government is being offered to Karnataka voters as an option for the first time. The last time, the state witnessed acute instability in governance arising from such an alliance that eventually collapsed, triggering fresh elections. The BJP that came into power following this election was hardly more stable, having three Chief Ministers in 5 years, with the party splintering into three. 

The JDS because of their alliance with BJP suffered an almost irreversible blow to their secular image, affecting their vote share drastically. And because secular voters in the state ever since harbor doubts whether voting JDS is a vote for BJP, this has become a big handicap to JDS to widen their social constituency. Not only prospects of a post-poll formal JDS-BJP coalition haunts secular voters, but if the JDS were to have 20-30 seats, popular perception remains that post poll Amit Shah would easily buy them wholesale to form a BJP government like he did in Goa and NE India.

In contrast, one of the biggest achievements of Siddaramiah was he was able to give a stable government for entire 5 years. He in fact is the only CM to complete his full tenure in the last 4 decades of the state's history.

Consequently both the JDS & BJP would find the projection of a hung house a typical Catch-22 dilemma. If they do not resort to creating an alternate narrative of a hung house they won't be able to enthuse both the cadres and potential voters. Ground reports as it is suggest that BJP cadres are mostly a demoralised lot and waiting for Modi to come to hopefully weave his magic again a la 2014. On the other hand, voters may end up spooked off by prospects of a hung house and consolidate around the Congress, propelling them to a victory far exceeding projections of pre-polls.


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