Karnataka Polls 2018: BJP, Congress Pin Hopes on ‘Vokkaliga’ Vote 

Caste has always been a key factor in K’taka’s politics & this time, it is the Vokkaliga vote that holds the key.

6 min read
Image used for representational purposes.

The election season of the big states in 2018 has begun with a fascinating triangular contest in Karnataka. These elections are crucial for both the BJP and Congress. For Congress, this is the only big state, which sends more than 15 MPs to the Parliament, where the party is in power.

A loss here would hasten the process of a Congress-mukt ‘Bharat’, a point re-emphasised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in two recent interviews. The election is crucial for the BJP too, as Karnataka was the first state in South India where the party stormed to power in 2008. In many ways, this acts as the party’s gateway to southern part of India.

Power Struggle in Karnataka Politics

Former Indian Prime Minister Deve Gowda’s regional party Janata Dal (Secular) (JDS) is the third player, which is going full throttle to scuttle the plans of both the national parties and emerge as the kingmaker. A voter poll by TV news channel ‘TV 9-C’ has predicted a hung assembly with Congress emerging as the single largest party.

Since 1985, the state has never re-elected the incumbent party, which means that power changes hands every five years in Karnataka. From 1985 to 1999, the power oscillated between Janata Dal constituents and the Congress. The trend was broken in 2004 when the people delivered a hung verdict.

The Congress however, managed to retain the Chief Minister’s chair with the support of the JD(S), under a formula for sharing the top post.

2004-2008 witnessed a period of instability and the state saw three Chief Ministerial tenures, one from each party. Will this trend continue in 2018? If it does, who will be the beneficiary – the BJP or the JD(S)? Or will there be a hung assembly situation like in 2004?

Power struggle in Karnataka (1985-2013)
Power struggle in Karnataka (1985-2013)
(Photo: Rahul Gupta / The Quint)

*Three CM tenures:

  • INC (One year 245 days)
  • JD(S) (One year 253 days)
  • BJP (Seven days)
Congress: 36% II BJP: 32% II JD(S): 20%
Party-wise vote share in the last three polls in Karnataka

BJP won in 2008 despite recording a lower vote share than the Congress (33.9 percent vs 34.8 percent).

Source: <a href="http://www.indiavotes.com">www.indiavotes.com</a>, <a href="http://www.politicalbaba.com">www.politicalbaba.com</a>
Source: www.indiavotes.com, www.politicalbaba.com
(Photo: Rahul Gupta / The Quint)

*(Notes: Vote shares have been adjusted to arrive at the true strength of the three parties. JDS was formed in 1999. 1985 vote share is of Janata Party, and 1994 of Janata Dal respectively. BJP vote share includes Janata Dal United vote share in 1999 and 2004. 2013 vote share of BJP includes vote share of Karnataka Janata Party formed by Yedyurappa and BSRCP formed by Reddy brothers, as both have merged with BJP. 1994 Congress vote share includes Karnataka Congress Party votes as well.)

The Caste Factor

Caste plays an important factor in Karnataka as in most parts of the country. The Lingayats and Vokkaligas, accounting for 27 percent of the population, are the most dominant and influential groups of the state.

Till date, Karnataka has had five chief ministers from the Vokkaliga community, and seven from among the Lingayats. Though Lingayats and Vokkaligas belong to the OBC group, they are like the ‘forward caste’ of the OBCs (much like the Kurmis of Bihar and the Yadavs of UP).

Vokkaliga: 53/103 II Lingayats: 50/103
Division of MLAs (total: 103) in present Assembly (Vokkaligas vs Lingayats)

The SC/ST account for 24 percent of the total population, the Kurubas comprise eight percent and Muslims comprise 13 percent.


Acronyms like LIBRA and AHINDA are commonly used terms in Karnataka politics.

LIBRA = Lingayat plus Brahmins
What does LIBRA mean in Karnataka? 
AHINDA = Alpasankhyataru + Hindulidavaru Mattu Dalitaru (Dalits, Backward Classes & Muslims)
What does AHINDA mean in Karnataka? 

LIBRA has traditionally been the anchor voting segment of the BJP, whereas the AHINDA has traditionally supported the Congress. With Siddaramaiah’s entry into the Congress, AHINDAs fully backed the party in 2013 resulting in its resounding victory. The Vokkaligas (12 percent) have traditionally backed Deve Gowda’s JD(S).

While BJP’s Chief Ministerial candidate Yeddyurappa (who is back in the party) is a Lingayat, Deve Gowda and SM Krishna are Vokkaligas. CM Siddaramaiah and BJP’s Eshwarappa are Kurubas – both belong to the OBC community.

Which areas in Karnataka are the Lingayats dominant in?
North Karnataka, Hyderabad-Karnataka (north-east Karnataka) and Old Mumbai region (Bombay-Karnataka).
Who are the Vokkaligas?
Dominant peasant caste of Old Mysuru.

Both the Congress and the BJP have started out on even footing, with a base vote share of 24 percent each, while the JD(S) has started with five percent only. The Congress has half the support of the AHINDA, while the BJP has 60 percent of the support of the LIBRA. Both parties need an additional 10-12 percent to win, which is why they both have their eyes on the balance seven percent Vokkaliga vote.

Even when BJP won Karnataka in 2008, majority of the Vokkaliga community backed JD(S) (42 percent), followed by Congress (38 percent). BJP managed to get the support of only 19 percent of the Vokkaligas.

BJP’s Hopes Pinned on Vokkaliga Vote

BJP has its hopes pinned on the Vokkaliga vote in 2018, thus, hoping to maintain its 2014 Lok Sabha position, where it bagged 38 percent of the community’s votes (as shown in the graph below), ahead of both the JDS (31 percent) and Congress (29 percent).

This was partially due to the ‘Modi factor’. Forty percent respondents in a CSDS survey said they would not have voted for BJP had Modi not been the PM candidate – the national average was 25 percent. However, when asked to rank the present Congress government in the state (in comparison to the previous BJP regime), six out of every 10 respondents in a CSDS survey during Lok Sabha elections, said that the present Congress government was far better.

Caste-wise vote share in Karnataka (2014 General Elections)
Caste-wise vote share in Karnataka (2014 General Elections)
(Photo: Rahul Gupta / The Quint)

A Neck & Neck Race

This time, the BJP is banking on SM Krishna, who was inducted recently to sway the Vokkaliga vote, despite the fact that the latter’s image now is that of a retired politician who lacks the firepower of his heydays. The I-T raids on his son-in-law have reportedly annoyed him and caused him to sulk.

Siddaramaiah is proving to be a tough nut to crack for BJP. He has undertaken a massive caste census, the results of which are not available publicly, but ‘insider knowledge’ is bound to help Siddaramaiah.

He is also trying to create a wedge among the Lingayat voters by backing the demand by a section of the community for a separate religion. How far this will impact the BJP support in these elections is anybody’s guess. My assessment is, it won’t have much of an impact.

However, Siddaramaiah’s call for increase in reservation for SC/ST and OBCs in education and public sector services to 70 percent will ensure AHINDA stays put with the Congress.

In the end, it all depends upon how much sway Deve Gowda still commands over the Vokkaligas and whom the Vokkaligas vote for in areas beyond the JD(S) strongholds, ie, in regions beyond Old Mysuru. JD(S) is expected to lose two-four percent vote share, and whoever manages to grab this, will eventually win the elections.

At present, it is a neck and neck situation.

(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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