Karnataka – Drawing lines in water

Like North India, the factors which play an important role in Karnataka are mainly caste, language and ethnicity, but in the wake of Kandhamal incident in Orissa religion has also got an entry.

Ritesh K Srivastava

Like North India, the factors which play an important role in Karnataka are mainly caste, language and ethnicity, but in the wake of Kandhamal incident in Orissa religion has also got an entry to sway the minds of electorate in this new found saffron territory. Since Karnataka is an urbanised state, besides the caste and ethnicity the factors which are likely to dominate the poll campaign are: employment in urban and rural sector, spiralling prices of essential commodities, poor infrastructure in both urban and rural areas with more focus on basic needs like water, electricity and poor fiscal management, internal security, Kaveri water dispute and JD-S betrayal.

Vokkaligas vs Lingayats

Caste rivalry has for long been a salient feature of Karnataka politics. Anti-Tamil and anti-Hindi uprisings were endemic in the 1960s and it continued till the late 70s. The political environment here is dominated by two rival caste groups of Vokkaligas and Lingayats.

The Vokkaligas comprise 15% of the 5 crore-odd population of the state and are spread mainly in Bangalore, Mandya, Hassan, Mysore, Kolar and Chikamagalur, while Lingayats consists of 17% of the population and dominate the central and northern parts.
Besides Dalits (23%) and Kurubas (8%), Muslims also comprise 10% of the population, while the rest include Christians and others. Though Dalits outnumber Lingayats and Vokkaligas, these two communities play a deciding role in the state politics.

The Lingayats has declared a war against the JD-S which is headed by former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda- a Vokkaliga, following the departure of M P Prakash- a Lingayat, from JD-S. And to take advantage of this friction, the Congress has deputed its veteran leader S M Krishna- a Vokkaliga, to lead the battle.

All the political parties including JD-S, Congress and BJP are trying hard to woo the votes of these communities. The JD-S, in the last election, has successfully wooed the Vokkaliga, Muslim and Kuruba communities, and had also got the benefit in 1994 polls to win by a huge margin.

The BJP, lead by a Lingayat Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa, had bitten dust in 2004 by not projecting Yeddyurappa as the CM candidate, therefore in this elections it heavily depends on him to retain the strong Lingayat vote bank.

The Congress, however, is depending on its trio comprising SM Krishna, Mallikarjuna Kharge- a Dalit, and Siddaramaiah to trespass into the vote bank of JD-S and BJP, besides wooing Muslim votes projecting the popular minority faces of C K Jaffer Sharief and C M Ibrahim.

JD-S ‘betrayal’

The BJP has decided to make the "betrayal by JDS" and "stability" as main planks of its campaign in this election. The saffron party has termed the JD-S refusal to hand over power to BJP last year as promised in power-sharing deal as great political betrayal, which has hurt people of Karnataka immensely.

The BJP last year withdrew support from the H D Kumaraswamy govt after his father and the JD-S chief Deve Gowda made it clear that the coalition would continue only if his son was allowed to continue as Chief Minister for the remaining 20 months. This led to the Centre invoking the President’s Rule in the state till a new BJP government under B S Yediyurappa was formed.

Meanwhile, the BJP has also launched “Operation Kamala,” aimed at engineering defections from other parties to the BJP in return for promises of office.

Kaveri water dispute

The waters of the River Kaveri have been a bone of contention Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. While Tamil Nadu has historically enjoyed greater usage of the water compared to Karnataka, the latter sees it as a grave historic injustice enforced upon it. The genesis of this disparity lies in a two controversial agreements signed in 1892 and then in 1924 between the Madras Presidency and the Princely State of Mysore.

These agreements were skewed heavily in favour of the Madras Presidency, claims Karnataka as it dealt a blow to its own interests therefore it wants a renegotiated settlement based on equitable sharing of the waters. Tamil Nadu on the other hand, pleads that it has already developed almost 3,000,000 acres (12,000 sq km) of land and depends heavily on the existing pattern of usage therefore any change in this pattern will adversely affect the livelihood of millions of farmers in the state.

Farmer suicide

With 318 farmers committing suicide in this financial year (2008-09) in Karnataka, farmer suicide will surely be one of the major polls issues this time. The political parties especially (Congress) will have to woo the rural voters and chalk out effective poll strategies with a greater emphasis on the problems faced by the agricultural sector in order to boost their poll prospects.

The issue of farmers’ suicide has also find mention in the election manifestos of smaller parties such as the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

The State’s agricultural sector has been facing lots of hardship and debt has been the major factor leading to suicide by farmers. Despite assurances from the government, the agriculture sector has recorded a dismal growth rate of 5.7 per cent in 2008-09 in Karnataka’s GDP against the national average growth of 2.6 per cent.

Besides, serious fluctuations in the south-west monsoon, excess rains in major parts of State causing flash floods, fertiliser shortage, fluctuations in the prices of crops, delay in procurement of produce, particularly surgarcane has complicated the problems of the farmers and forced them to commit suicides.

Suicide cases are being reported almost every day from across the State. The highest number of suicide cases this financial year has been reported from Hassan (47) (district-wise break-up is given in the table), which was represented by the former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda in the 14th Lok Sabha.

Security, terrorism and communal situation

Security & terrorism will be a major issue in the polls considering the recent bomb blasts in several metropolitan cities including the deadliest Mumbai attack. The law and order situation especially after the Mangalore pub assault cases will remain a major poll plank. Since issues of terrorism and internal security are on the national agenda of the BJP, the security apparatus in the state is surely going to become an important poll issue considering the vast coastline and Bangalore’s vulnerability as an important IT hub.

The deteriorating law and order situation especially in the wake of attack on Christians emanating from the Kandhmal riots in Orissa and the Mangalore pub assault case will be a major issue for the ruling BJP government.

The opposition JD-S and Congress have alleged that the communal situation in Karnataka has become worse than Gujarat and the BJP Government has clearly failed to improve law and order and maintain communal harmony.

Illegal mining

The issue of illegal mining of iron ore is likely to dominate the election scene in the Bellary district of Karnataka. The JD-S led by former Prime Minster HD Deve Gowda has launched a scathing attack against the mining mafias active in this region especially G Janardhan Reddy, his brother Mr G Karunakara Reddy and health Minister Sriramulu for their insatiable interest and exploitation of the region. The party has accused the mining mafia of destroying the boundary markers between Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh running over a area of 35 kilometer and substituting them with the new boundary marks.


Karnataka being an urbanised state, the BJP is all set to highlight the achievements of the Yeddyurappa government.

The ruling BJP has accused the Congress-led UPA govt of meting out step-motherly treatment to Karnataka and ignoring its development. Chief Minister Yeddyurappa has vowed to come out with a “charge sheet” containing statistics regarding “discrimination” by the UPA against Karnataka.

The state had been suffering from power shortage for the past several months due to vagaries of monsoon. Despite several appeals, the UPA Government turned deaf ears and never sanctioned the 1,500 MW due to the State, the BJP party has alleged.
BJP is confident that farm loans at 3% interest, free power to irrigation pumpsets and other welfare schemes will certainty benefit it.

However, the Congress is geared up to attack the ruling party for not fulfilling its development works promised. The Congress has maintained that the law and order situation in Karnataka was never as bad as it is after the BJP took office. The image of the state has touched the lowest level at the national and international level, it claims.

The JD-S is cornering the BJP for its failure to provide rice at Rs 2 per kg, and its failure to maintain communal harmony.

Split in Congress camp

Despite luring back several key leaders including S Bangarappa, N. Dharam Singh, M. Mallikarjun Kharge, CK Jafar Shariff and B Janardhana Poojary in its fold, the internal differences and the growing dissidence over the selection of candidates is likely to bleed the Congress in the coming polls. The party, has however, sought to dispel that there was no rift between top leaders and the party high command has done a balancing act in pleasing the rebellions and taking care of all sections to ensure lesser trouble during the polls.

Two former Chief Ministers of the State, S. Bangarappa (Shimoga) and N. Dharam Singh (Bidar) apart from two former presidents of the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee M Mallikarjun Kharge (Gulbarga) and B. Janardhana Poojary (Dakshina Kannada) have been fielded giving an impression that the Grand Old Party is serious about retaining its lost glory in the state.

Whatever may be the outcome of the electoral exercise, the recent assembly elections in several states have made it clear that the voter now prefers peace, progress and development and it can no longer be wooed by mere ‘divisive politics’ and ‘false promises’. The electorate now wants an accountable government, which reaches the poor, the underprivileged and the expanding middle class and also takes blame for its mistakes.