‘Modi’ May Still Be the Magic Word in the Karnataka Race

As the Karnataka polls are nearing, Modi’s eyes are on three specific sets of voters in the state.

4 min read
Most opinion polls have predicted a hung assembly where the JD(S) is likely to play the role of kingmaker.

As Narendra Modi begins campaigning on 1 May, in Karnataka, the BJP’s hopes are pinned on his charisma in a tough contest which has no clear winner yet.

Most opinion polls have predicted a hung assembly where the JD(S) is likely to play the role of kingmaker. Modi is pitted in one of the toughest elections of his career since taking over as prime minister.

If the Congress manages to retain the state (against historical trend), it will provide a big fillip to its cadre ahead of elections in three states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.


Neck-to-Neck Competition in K’Taka

Note: The above includes C-Fore survey which predicts 126 seats for the Congress, hence the numbers skewed towards the party.  
Note: The above includes C-Fore survey which predicts 126 seats for the Congress, hence the numbers skewed towards the party.  

Modi enjoys high popularity ratings in Karnataka. In Lok Sabha 2014 elections, 42 percent people surveyed in the state by CSDS stated that they would not have voted for the BJP if Modi had not been the PM candidate.

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The all India figure was 27 percent. At least 9 out of 10 Indians in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Telangana in the south, and Maharashtra, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh in the west, hold a favorable view of the prime minister as per Pew Survey. Modi’s approval rating at 54 percent is higher than Siddaramaiah’s rating of 51 percent, though the CM is ahead of Yeddyurappa in all surveys.

Modi needs to swing another 3 percent votes in favour of the party to go past the halfway mark. With surveys currently predicting around 35 percent for the BJP, a 38 percent vote share will propel it to 115-120 seats.

However, there is a big issue – the BJP is in contention in only about 150-odd seats. The other 80 odd seats are primarily INC vs JD(S) contests. The party has finished either as the winner or as a runner up in 146 seats on an average in the last three elections. Even in 2008, when it won, it was in contention only in 168 seats.

Modi's Eyes Are on 3 Sets of Voters

This means that the BJP requires a very high strike rate of 77 percent (113/146) to win these elections. In 2008, it managed a 67 percent strike rate (110/168), but at that time there was significant sympathy in favour of Yeddyurappa who was ditched by Kumaraswamy.

This time there is no palpable wave in favour of any party. However, a word of caution, no wave in favour of the BJP was visible on the ground even in UP and we all know the result.

‘Modi’ May Still Be the Magic Word in the Karnataka Race

In my opinion, Modi’s focus will be on three sets of voters as less than two weeks remain for the elections.

  • Undecided Voters: Around 42 percent voters finally made up their mind to vote for their chosen party in the 2008 state elections on the day of polling, and one or two days before D-Day as per a CSDS survey; 2013 data not available.
  • Voters (mostly urban/semi urban) who prefer stability: A prospect of a hung assembly brings along with it instability. Modi would try to remind the voters of 2004-08 when the state witnessed three chief ministerial terms and jod-tod politics. Do they want horse-trading again? Do they want development to suffer?
  • Vokkaliga supporters of JD(S): There are 43 seats which Vokkaligas hold influence. Vokkaligas are very anti-Siddaramaiah and traditional supporters of JD(S). In many ways this election has turned out to be upper caste versus lower caste and minorities. If Siddaramaiah wins again it would threaten the dominance of Lingayats and Vokkaligas in Karnataka politics. It is this insecurity which Modi could possibly play on.

Only ‘Modi Magic’ Can Save BJP in K’Taka

The BJP appeared all set to win around 3 months ago, riding on the wave of anti-incumbency. However, events in recent months have left things up in the air. Yeddyurappa has health issues, is old and well past his prime. The party taking back the Reddy brothers has diluted Modi’s 10 percent commission government charge on Siddaramaiah.

The PM coming in so late in the campaign has also sparked rumours that the BJP is not too confident of its victory. Additionally, four years into government, the Modi government is also starting to face the heat on certain issues.

His leadership ratings have also witnessed a decline, while Rahul Gandhi is catching up, although the gap is quite huge at 30 percent.

To sum up, supporters increasingly believe that only the Modi magic can now ensure that the BJP crosses the halfway mark, or emerges as the single largest party. His campaign may just be the tonic the BJP election machinery needs.

Though surveys predict a hung assembly, don’t be surprised if people give a clear verdict. A complex interplay of various factors like seat level dynamics, caste alliances, turnout, booth management on voting day, rebel candidates, leadership ratings and Modi mania will decide who ultimately wins. Game abhi baaki hai!

(Amitabh Tiwari is a corporate and investment banker turned political commentator, strategist and consultant. He can be reached @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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