After hoisting the saffron flag in the Northeast, the BJP juggernaut is headed towards the southern states, especially Karnataka. The Congress, which is fighting for its existence, has also fastened its belt for the race in Karnataka.
This is a three-cornered election, in which the HD Deve Gowda-led Janata Dal (Secular) is the third rival in the race. While the two main rivals - both Congress and the BJP - are confident of winning the elections, history tells a different story.
In Karnataka, no party since 1985 came to power for a second consecutive term and no CM has returned after a full five-year term since Devaraj Urs in 1978.
State's political geography
Karnataka comprises 224 Assembly seats and 28 Lok Sabha seats. The state is mainly divided into six parts: One is Hyderabad Karnataka, the portion which shares its boundary with Hyderabad. This area has 40 Assembly seats. Then there is Bombay Karnataka (50 seats), Coastal Karnataka (19 seats), Mysore (65 seats), Central Karnataka (22 seats) and Bangalore city (28 seats).
Image: PTI file photos for representational purpose
The caste arithmetic of the state is going to be one of the most important factors in the coming elections. Lingayats which are the epicentre of this election constitute 17 per cent of the state population. This community can affect results in 100 seats which can be a game-changer for any party. Traditionally Congress supporters, the Lingayats were seemingly disappointed with the Congress when the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi sacked Lingayat CM Veerandra Patil in 1990. In the next elections, the Congress recorded its worst performance till date.
Vokkaligas are the second-most important community in the Karnataka. Fifteen per cent of the state population is Vokkaligas - the loyal voter base of the Janata Dal (Secular) party. After the Lingayats raised their demand for separate religious status, Vokkaligas too followed suit. The community is mainly upset with the BJP and the Congress over the much-apparent appeasement of the Lingayats.
Vokkaligas are mainly concentrated in southern Karnataka districts including Mandya, Hassan, Mysore, Bangalore (rural), Tumkur, Chikkaballapur, Kolar and Chikmagalur. After these two communities, the third largest community in the state is Dalits. Dalits make 23 per cent the state population. Dalits are further divided into "Left Dalits", or Madigas, or "untouchables", and "Right Dalits", or the "touchables" or Holeya communities.
Madigas, who are perceived to be at the receiving end of the Congress as they have not been benefitted from any state scheme, are angry with the state government. On the other hand, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, who represents the Holeyas (also referred to as Chalavadis), has consolidated their support for the party. The third party - the JD(S) - which is fighting along with the BSP can sway the Dalit votes and can eat into a large chunk of the Congress’s Dalit vote bank. In the 2008 Assembly elections, the BJP won 22 of 36 seats reserved for Scheduled Castes. The Congress, however, had bounced back in 2013.
Muslims, which have so far been side-lined in this elections, too can prove to be a game-changer. Muslims comprise 9 per cent of the state population which are concentrated on the coastal Karnataka.
The BJP, in 2013, faced a shocking defeat in the region with just three out of 19 seats while the Congress bagged 12 seats.
How the voters cast their ballots in the past and how much votes the respective parties gained in the past elections help understand the pattern. In Karnataka, the Congress never won less than 35 per cent of votes in the state whether Lok Sabha election or Vidhan Sabha (except 1994).
In 2014 Lok Sabha elections despite a Modi wave, the Congress was able to bag 41.5 per cent and nine seats. Interestingly in the 2008 state elections, the winning party, BJP, got 33.86 per cent votes while the runner-up Congress won 34.76 per cent votes, 0.9% more than the winner.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP cornered 43.37 per cent and won 17 out of 28 Lok Sabha seats. Going by the to 2014 Lok Sabha election results, the BJP can easily achieve the target of 113 seats. In 2008, the BJP got 33.86 per cent votes, which is 10 per cent less than 2014.
The JD(S), which bagged 20.15 per cent votes in the 2013 Assembly polls, saw a major decline in 2014. The party gained a mere 11.07 per cent votes with just two seats in the elections.
This time around, the JD(S) is again at a position where it can be a potential kingmaker, if neither party gets a clear majority.
While caste arithmetic and voting patterns are two important factors for any political party to focus on in the elections, the above-stated factors are still not enough to predict the results this year.
What is, however, easy to predict is that this election will be a tightrope walk for all the three parties - the Congress, the BJP and the JD(S).
Also read: India Today Karnataka opinion poll finds Congress to be largest party, but will fall short of majority