Siddaramaiah’s AHINDA Strategy Will Face Its Real Test in 2018
Any discussion on current Karnataka politics sans the words ‘AHINDA strategy’ is a rarity. This was the political strategy that helped the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government to come to power in the 2013 Assembly elections. And even for the 2018 elections, AHINDA remains Siddaramaiah’s primary strategy.
AHINDA stands for Alpasankhyataru (Minorities), Hindulidavaru (Backward Classes) and Dalitaru (Dalits).
In Karnataka, the Lingayats and the Vokkaligas community constitute a large chunk of the state’s vote bank. AHINDA was an attempt to consolidate the votes of the other communities to create a third large vote bank against these two.
In recent political dialogues, the AHINDA strategy has become associated with the Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who used it effectively in 2013. However, the story of AHINDA dates back to the 70s, and the Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi’s government played a huge part in its development.
Siddaramaiah merely resurrected a strategy that was successfully used by a faction of the Congress back then.
The Split In Congress and Rise of Devaraj Urs – The Inventor of AHINDA
The story of AHINDA starts with the expulsion of Indira Gandhi from the Indian National Congress (INC) in 1969.
The party split into Congress (I) and Congress (O). The Congress (I) had the supporters of Indira Gandhi and Congress (O) had the leaders who remained with the original organisation.
Even in Karnataka, the Congress party split into two. The Congress (O) had party stalwarts like S Nijalingappa, Veerendra Patil, Ramakrishna Hegde, Deve Gowda and Kamaraj, who dominated Karnataka’s vote bank.
The Indira faction was led by Devaraj Urs. Even though the Congress (O) asked Urs to join hands with them, he led the party in the state through the 1972 Assembly election under Indira Gandhi’s party flag.
Riding on the popularity of Indira Gandhi, especially after the victory in the 1971 Indo-Pak war, he won the 1972 Assembly elections in Karnataka.
AHINDA Emerges From the Ashes of Emergency
Even though his party had won on Indira Gandhi’s popularity, Devaraj Urs realised that the leaders in the Congress (O) retained their influence over the Lingayat and Vokkaliga vote banks in the state.
In order to return to power after 5 years, he had to create a counter vote bank. Thus began the consolidation of the AHINDA vote bank.
Although the Emergency between 1975-1977 cost Indira Gandhi her mandate, for Urs it was a boon, as he was able to introduce land reforms in Karnataka. During the Emergency, using the power to rule without constitutional constraints, Indira Gandhi had started a massive redistribution program, including rapid enforcement of land ceilings.
With his slogan "land to the tiller”, he gave the backward classes ownership of land, which were previously owned by the Lingayat, Vokkaliga and other upper-class communities.
These reforms increased his popularity among the backward classes and consolidated the AHINDA vote bank.
The strategy paid off in 1977, when he fought the Assembly elections against the Congress (O) and won with the AHINDA votes. Till date, he remains the only chief minister who beat the anti-incumbency trend in Karnataka and got re-elected after serving a full five-year term.
Fizzling Out of the Ideology
Due to differences with Indira Gandhi, Urs left the Congress (I) in 1980 and formed the Congress (Urs). He contested in 1980 Assembly elections from the Congress (Urs), but his party managed to win only one seat.
He later formed another political party, Karnataka Kranti Ranga, in 1982, however, within two months, he passed away.
With Urs’ death began the decline of the AHINDA strategy. As the reservations for SCs, STs and OBCs were introduced in elections, all the major political parties started grooming leaders from the Dalit and OBC communities. The AHINDA votes were divided between these leaders, making AHINDA an irrelevant political strategy till the mid-2000’s.
Until 2005, the leadership of major political parties was dominated by politicians from the upper castes. In 2005, Siddaramaiah, who was a leader in the JD(S), was expelled from the party for attending an AHINDA Conference and supporting the AHINDA cause.
Siddaramaiah soon joined the Congress party. Being from the Kuruba community, an OBC caste, he began reviving AHINDA politics, utilising his image as a backward class leader.
However, in the 2008 Assembly elections, Siddaramaiah was not at helm of affairs and the AHINDA strategy made little impact on the election results.
Battle Tested in 2013 Elections
By 2013, Siddaramaiah had emerged as a leader of the Congress party and over the years, he had projected himself as an AHINDA leader as well.
Ahead of the 2013 elections, the BJP also suffered a split in the party. Their senior leader BS Yeddyurappa moved out of the BJP to form a new party. As Yeddyurappa was popular Lingayat leader, the BJP’s Lingayat got split between the BJP and Yeddyurappa’s new party.
This presented Siddaramaiah with a perfect opportunity to utilise the AHINDA vote bank he had consolidated over the years. The split in the Lingayat votes gave the AHINDA vote bank the edge, and Siddaramaiah came to power with a majority.
This was the first time since 1977 a government had come to power based on the AHINDA vote bank.
The Real Test Still Ahead
The 2018 Assembly election is expected to be the real test for Siddaramaiah’s revived AHINDA strategy. In 2013, as much as the consolidation of the AHINDA votes, the split in the BJP helped Siddaramaiah wrest power.
But in 2018, the BJP is united. Winning the elections in the new political equation will be the real challenge for Siddaramaiah to prove that his AHINDA strategy is as good as Devaraj Urs’. And if Siddaramaiah’s AHINDA strategy works, he would become the second Chief Minister after Devaraj Urs to get elected after a full five-year term.
Will he be able to repeat history?