Karnataka election: Water woes, Lingayats dominate poll discourse

Last Updated: Sat, May 05, 2018 11:25 hrs
BJP, Congress both claim victory in Manipur

With a little over a week to go for the Karnataka polls, the two heavyweights Prime Minister Modi and Congress chief Rahul Gandhi are campaigning hard. Modi hit Rahul on his “15 minute dare” with a counter of asking him to recite the achievements of the current Karnataka government under chief minister Siddaramaiah.

Political maneuvering between other party chiefs is under way. JD(S) chief ministerial candidate H.D. Kumaraswamy has reiterated that there isn’t and will be no alliance with the BJP in the case of a hung assembly. This came despite the Prime Minister praising Deve Gowda. The JD(S) could play the spoiler in the state. The Hindustan Times editorial calls JD(S) the X factor in the state –

For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a win is necessary to counter the growing perception that the party is facing serious political challenges and discontent; it is also needed to enter the south, the one region where it has not been able to make a breakthrough”.

The outcome of the elections, however, may well depend on the third party in the fray. Erroneously thought of as only a bipolar state, Karnataka has a third force in the form of the Janata Dal (Secular), led by former PM HD Deve Gowda and his son HD Kumaraswamy”.

Karnataka has been a tough nut to crack for the BJP, much like the South India in general for the party. In 2013, the BJP lost over 70 seats in the State. There is a lot to play for in the state.

Given the back and forth on the trail; the issues that matter most are wide ranging.

Bengaluru’s woes

The BJP’s main hit against the Congress is that the metropolitan city with a vibrant population has been crumbling under the current government. With a city that is growing in size, congestion is a major problem. The Congress has promised welfare programmes for the urban poor; Indira canteens providing subsidized food a la Amma canteens in Tamil Nadu and housing as well.

Last August, after heavy rainfall, many areas in the city were under water. Residents were angry at the lack of civic preparedness of the administration in anticipation of the monsoon, while accusations were traded among political parties.

However, there has been pushback from citizens on some major infrastructure projects such as steel flyover project, which was dropped after allegations of corruption. The state of the polluted Bellandur Lake is another reason why there has been increased civic activism and the administration acing anger from its citizens. The issues facing the country’s IT capital are fairly simple ones at the end of the day – better roads, water and power supply.


On May Day, the Prime Minister hit out at the current administration for showing indifference towards the plight of farmers in the state. He criticized the government for not implementing the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana. He pledged to double the income of farmers by 2022. He urged the party’s Kisan Morcha Karyakartas, those who are specifically tasked with speaking to farmers, to communicate to them that their issues matter and there should be a government that understands their problems.

Over the last 4 years, more than 3500 farmers committed suicide in the state; a majority of them taking their own life due to drought and farm failure. The government did take some relief measures in asking banks not to force farmers to repay their dues and to turn their some of their loans into long term loans with waiver of interest.

BJP chief Amit Shah faced tough questions from farmers while addressing a meeting in the northern part of the state. Farmers were upset with the central government and their failure to follow up on specific promises made during the 2014 campaign with respect to farmer income, minimum support prices and waiver of corporate loans.


A mainstay of Indian politics; it’s no different in the run up to the Karnataka polls. With the usual jabs made by each party against each other over corruption, Rahul Gandhi, in response to Modi’s criticism of the current government, questioned Modi on why his party gave poll tickets to the tainted Reddy brothers. The brothers of the mining scam tainted Janardhan Reddy were given tickets to contest in the elections.

There’s plenty of blame to go around with both parties fielding candidates who have dubious pasts to say the least when it comes to corruption. In an interview with the Hindu, Former Lokayukta Justice N. Santosh Hegde states that corruption has become a non issue in the state elections. His report on illegal mining in 2011 was instrumental in toppling then Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa from office –

In 2013 the Congress, which was in the Opposition, promised to implement the report on illegal mining. The first thing it did after it came to power was to begin weakening the Lokayukta by forming an Anti Corruption Bureau which works under the government and robbing the Lokayukta police of the power to investigate cases”.

Crime, Law and Order

With regards to the law and order situation in the state, the Siddaramaiah government might be on the defensive. There have been several high profile incidents in the past 3 years - Karnataka Lokayukta P Vishwanatha Shetty was stabbed multiple times in his office in March and journalist & activist Gauri Lankesh was murdered last year with the case still going on.

The government has come under criticism from Modi and the BJP is not doing enough to protect BJP and RSS workers. There have been lynchings of BJP and RSS workers in the state. In the past, the issue of crime and law & order hasn’t been on the forefront of the minds in contesting elections in the state.

However, this issue could be a nullifying factor for voters due to a lack of differentiation between the two parties

Religion and caste

While capitalizing on their core Hindutva message has worked for the BJP in many states, it’s a tougher ask in Karnataka and cold be said of the southern part of the country in general if results in past elections are any indication. The chief minister invoked the pride of Karnataka by unveiling its own state flag. Another important development is recognition of Lingayats as a separate religion from Hinduism.

Another issue hanging over the elections is the Cauvery water dispute. The state and centre have effectively punted on the issue at regular intervals. The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked Karnataka to “be ready to release Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu or face the consequences”. The central government essentially told the court that the Prime Minister is busy with the Karnataka elections in response to criticism directed at it by the apex court.

This plus a host of other issue will face the incoming government, whoever they may be. The stakes for both parties are high as each state election could provide a picture as to what happens in 2019.