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Letting a Winnable Election Slip Away: Congress in Karnataka

What explains the defeat of the Congress Party in the Karnataka assembly elections in May this year? The Congress waged a dismal campaign in the teeth of a shrewdly planned campaign by the Bharatiya Janata Party. The latter concentrated its resources in highly promising sub-regions of the state, as also, in a limited number of contests in apparently uncongenial areas where it perceived some chance of success.


Letting a Winnable Election Slip Away: Congress in Karnataka lobby in Karnataka. The second and decisive reason was Congress’ mishandling of the election campaign. Let us consider these two themes in turn – the first briefly, the second in detail.
James Manor Money

What explains the defeat of the Congress Party in the Karnataka assembly elections in May this year? The Congress waged a dismal campaign in the teeth of a shrewdly planned campaign by the Bharatiya Janata Party. The latter concentrated its resources in highly promising sub-regions of the state, as also, in a limited number of contests in apparently uncongenial areas where it perceived some chance of success.

n the Karnataka state election in May 2008, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 110 of the 224 seats – just short of a majority. Soon after the results were known, it secured its hold on power by inducing five independents, three Congressmen and two Janata Dal (Secular) [JD-S] members of legislative assembly (MLAs), to defect. All of these people were given ministerial posts or have been, in the words of a BJP leader, “well looked after”.1 The BJP is therefore probably secure in power for five years, unless it misgoverns badly. Given the unimpressive record of its new chief minister, B S Yedyurappa, that is possible but probably unlikely.

For the second successive state election, Congress got more votes than the BJP but won fewer seats because its support was evenly spread while the BJP’s was more concentrated. The JD-S was not crushed as many expected. Its vote share declined by only 1.48 per cent since the last election in 2004 (see the table).2

Despite the margin of victory in terms of seats, this was a very close election,

Table: Shares of the Popular Vote and Assembly Seats in Karnataka (in %)

Money almost never alters the outcomes of Indian elections – mainly because v oters are too sophisticated to permit that. If it did, ruling parties – which a lmost always have more money than their opponents – would not have lost on a large majority of occasions at national and state levels since 1980. In Karnataka before 2008, spending by any single party had made a significant difference in only one case, the Chikmagalur Lok Sabha byelection won by Indira Gandhi in 1978. And in that instance, it decided not the result but the margin of victory.4 Money has never been a decisive factor in any state election there.

The 2008 election was close enough that, while money was not decisive, it played a significant role. It made a difference at the margins, altering the results in several close contests – which is where money occasionally matters. It thus c arried the BJP closer to a majority in the assembly. As we shall see, that party c oncentrated its financial (and human) r esources very heavily on a limited number of seats which it deemed winnable. But this does not explain its victory, since Congress also had plenty of money

James Manor ( is with the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London.

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Shares of Popular Vote 2008 2004 Shares of Assembly Seats2008 2004
CongressBJP 34.59 33.86 35.28 28.49 80 110 65 79
JD-S 19.11 0.59 28 58
Others 12.44 15.64 6* 22

* This is the smallest number of parties ever to have won seats in a Karnataka election, and the smallest ever number of independents was elected. In 2004, 13 of the 22 “others” were independents, while in 2008 all six “others” were independents (The Hindu, May 27, 2008 and Deccan Herald, May 29, 2008).

as the analyst Sandeep Shastri has stressed. The BJP won about half of its seats, 54 of 110, by margins of less than 5,000. It led by less than 3,000 votes in 21 seats.3 Congress, which finished second in most of those contests, could have won this election.

It failed for two main reasons. The first and far less important was the immense amount of money spent by the BJP – much of which came from the emergent mining (some of which also came from the mining lobby) to spend. It was not so much the quantity of funds available to the BJP as the concentrated deployment of them that mattered.

There is an acute irony here. At this election, the Election Commission tackled overt spending far more aggressively than ever before. In the words of one Congressman of moderate temperament, it “went berserk” and converted much of the campaign into “almost a door-to-door affair”.5 Meanwhile, covert spending reached unprecedented levels. And yet money was a necessary but not a sufficient condition in producing the BJP victory.

Congress Mistakes

More crucially, Congress let this winnable election slip away. It began the campaign


with a lead in an opinion survey of 11.4 per cent over the BJP. That would have given it a solid majority of seats. When the actual votes were counted, the margin had shrunk to just 0.73 per cent. The election was lost during the campaign, and as we shall see, the main problem was the dismal campaign which Congress waged in the teeth of a shrewdly planned BJP challenge. That early opinion survey contained one further finding which is highly relevant here: 26.1 per cent of respondents said that their party preferences might change before polling day, and a further

9.7 per cent were “don’t knows” on this question.6 The way was open for a decline in support for Congress.

We must exclude from the catalogue of Congress errors (provided below) two things which did not hurt the party, but which (more to the point) did not help much either. First, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi campaigned in state – as did the prime minister, although in his case, he addressed just one indoor meeting in Bangalore. We only have polling evidence on Rahul Gandhi (who also made a high profile visit prior to the campaign), but it strongly suggests that visits by national leaders made only modest (and ambiguous) impacts.7 Lokniti found that 16.2 per cent of respondents were influenced by his visits. Of those, only 5.9 per cent had shifted support to Congress while 2.8 per cent had switched to other parties. The evocative power of the dynasty has clearly waned.

Second, at the outset of the campaign, Congress promised free colour televisions and rice at Rs 2 per kilo for poor families. An early Lokniti survey found that 65.5 per cent of respondents knew of this. Of those, the voting decisions of 23.6 per cent had been influenced. We must treat this finding with caution, however, for several reasons. That same survey found that a large minority of respondents might change their preferences before polling day. Some of them (we do not know how many) turned away from Congress because of these populist gestures. And the eventual result of the election strongly suggests that the impact of these promises diminished over time. Populism has always had more influence in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu than in Karnataka, and that was again true this time.

Let us now consider several strands in the story of how the mismanagement of the Congress campaign allowed its sizeable lead in early polls to evaporate.

Failure to Unify Congress

The various state Congress leaders and the factions which they head might have operated in a coordinated manner, but interventions and omissions by the party high command prevented this from happening.

Congress had an array of leaders with strong links to numerically important social groups. Four are especially worth mentioning:

  • (1) Mallikarjun Kharge (president, Provincial Congress Committee): Dalits
  • (2) S M Krishna (chief minister, 19992004): Vokkaligas
  • (3) Siddaramiah: OBCs, especially his numerically strong Kuruba caste fellows,8 and
  • (4) M P Prakash, who until this election had been an eminent figure in anti-Congress parties for 25 years: Lingayats.
  • Prakash added little to the campaign because he was from the far too tiny priestly jati within the Lingayat sect, because he was an unconvincing Congressman after a lifetime of bashing the party,9 and because Congress failed to arrange his defection until it was too late to undermine the BJP’s hold on the Lingayats.10 But the first three – Kharge, Krishna and Siddaramiah – could have been a winning combination, if Congress had fostered and displayed unity among them.

    That was entirely feasible. Karnataka Congressmen had adroitly done this on their own as recently as 1999 when all senior leaders boarded the same bus and toured the state together for an extended period. That both built unity and demonstrated it publicly, and Congress won that election. (It borrowed that idea from a similar and successful Janata Dal exercise at the 1994 state election by Ramakrishna Hegde, H D Deve Gowda and S R Bommai.)

    But strangely, Congress did nothing like this in 2008. The high command sent Prithviraj Chavan, an All-India Congress Committee general secretary who was inexperienced in state election coordination, and empowered him to take firm control of the campaign. To say this is not to argue that the Congress high command always bungles, or that all of its general secretaries are inept. The high command has often acted adroitly, and it has developed a remarkable array of anti-poverty initiatives since 2004. Its general secretaries

    – present and past – have included some highly imaginative, skilled operators. The point here is that there is a variability in decisions by the high command which is dangerous to the party – and that on this occasion, things went badly wrong.

    It is not clear whether the main problem was Chavan himself or his instructions from above. The answer is probably “both”. He understood few of the details and subtleties of politics and society in Karnataka. He appears to have been told to keep the various state Congress leaders at peace with one another but in their place. To prevent disunity and one-upmanship from developing among them, he went to great lengths to avoid any suggestion of favouritism along various state-level leaders. He also held back from anything that could remotely be described as risky action. The results, as we shall see, were excessive caution, passivity and delay.

    Weak Party Organisation

    The high command’s inordinate anxiety

    about upsetting tranquillity within the

    party has a history – even when tranquillity

    implied atrophy. It had reached such an

    extreme that in recent years the Congress

    high command has actually prevented the

    party organisation from being maintained

    and strengthened. It has long held back

    from reconstituting the Provincial Congress

    Committee (PCC), even though it was

    widely agreed in the party’s state unit that

    this was long overdue. It refused to

    strengthen the existing PCC because that

    might look like preferential treatment for

    its president, the Dalit leader, Mallikarjun

    Kharge. The PCC was allowed to drift in a

    moribund condition.

    Because the PCC was too weak to

    f oster unity within the state unit, the

    Congress “organisation” at this election

    actually consisted (as we shall see) of

    s everal different organisations – the

    f actional networks of various Karnataka

    C ongress leaders.

    A more serious omission occurred at

    the district level. District Congress

    C ommittees (DCCs) had also been allowed

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    to atrophy. Astonishingly, very few d istricts in Karnataka have had DCCs since 2005.11 Many state Congress activists wanted to revive them, but higher authorities in the party enforced inaction.

    Even in this weakened, disunited condition, Congress (like the JD-S) possessed a stronger organisation in Karnataka than did the BJP. The Congress organisation there is also stronger than its own units in most other states. But the BJP compensated for this by doing its homework very assiduously, well in advance of the voting (as it had done in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in 200312). For example, it brought a pollster from Delhi to the state six weeks before voting began – to analyse key issues, the views and inclinations of important social groups, and the prospects for the BJP in specific assembly constituencies. In regions of the state where the BJP was less strong, that third element enabled it to concentrate its efforts in a limited number of winnable seats. As we shall see, this paid off later.

    Self-destructive Delay

    Prithviraj Chavan had served as a minister in the prime minister’s office where decisions are made at a very deliberate pace. This, plus what one former Congress minister describes as “notoriously slow” decision-making within the party high command, led to a campaign marked by self-destructive delay.

    Congress leaders knew, early on, that the BJP had sent a pollster to the state, and that BJP and RSS activists were c arefully researching the state, seat-byseat. But they took no action to do their own homework, or to plan their campaign or to manage candidate selection with any care.

    A telling example of delay occurred when a key Congress leader, a Lingayat, from the far north of Karnataka, was offered the leadership of the BJP in his district (and more) if he would defect. The offer came in a telephone conversation which occurred in the presence of another senior Congressman. The latter immediately telephoned Chavan to alert him to the emergency – and to ask for an immediate counter-offer from Congress.

    It is worth noting here that the Congressman placing that call did not telephone

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    state Congress leaders – because Chavan was plainly in control of the campaign.

    Chavan asked for time to reflect on the matter. After a considerable delay, he approved an offer of greater influence to the leader in question. But in the interim, the man had accepted the BJP offer and announced that he was switching parties. Congress suffered serious damage in his district – and elsewhere because his defection strengthened the impression that Lingayats were coalescing behind the BJP and its Lingayat leader, Yedyurappa.

    Delay was also evident in Congress candidate selection. In order to avoid conflicts between party leaders in the state, decisions were put off until – in some cases, literally – the final minutes before the filing of nomination papers. By contrast, the BJP had selected many candidates as soon as the old assembly had been dissolved – six months earlier.13 So the BJP had a huge head start in cultivating constituencies. This was especially important at this election because many constituencies were new, following delimitation. The most perceptive analyst of Karnataka’s politics believes that if Congress had c hosen its candidates as early as the BJP did, that alone would have enabled it to win this election.14 But Congress dithered.

    Delay, and the failure to work proactively to foster Congress unity, led to unusually unseemly scenes as factions battled over tickets in open demonstrations of disunity. Money was widely perceived to have changed hands, lobbying for nominations was at times visibly c haotic, and the eventual decisions s ometimes triggered violent reactions.

    The party’s choices of candidates were not just late, they were also often very u nwise. For example, in one constituency in southern Karnataka near Bangalore where Vokkaligas have a strong presence, good Vokkaliga candidates were ignored and the ticket was given to a relative of former chief minister Dharam Singh. This was bizarre. Dharam Singh comes from far-off northern Karnataka, and since his family migrated from north India, he has no connection to important social groups. But to placate the former chief minister, Congress awarded the t icket to his relative – and suffered a p redictable defeat.15 To make matters worse, Dharam Singh failed to win his own seat further north.

    Delay was also apparent in the failure of Congress to respond swiftly with counter-arguments when the BJP raised issues that threatened it. This was of a piece with another serious failing. Senior C ongressmen complain that their party failed to project a number of issues which would have enhanced its chances. They speak of carelessness, a tendency to be “inert”, and a lack of content in the e lection campaign.

    That last error – an “issue-lite” campaign, to quote a former Congress minister16 – provides much of the explanation for the defeats suffered by a sizeable group of senior hard core Congress l eaders across the state. They offered no coherent message, showed no inclination to canvass energetically, and appeared to expect re-election as a matter of course. They were perceived as “boring”,17 perhaps the most damaging adjective that can be applied to a politician. This group of around ten ageing figures – many of whom were defeated by political newcomers – included two who had never lost an election: former chief minister Dharam Singh and former minister and six-time MLA, R V Deshpande.18

    One other important element in the d efeat of Congress was its failure to maintain its strong early lead among Muslims. At 12.2 per cent of the state’s population, they are an important part of its traditional base. Muslim support for Congress declined by over 10 per cent during the campaign, with most of those votes going to the JD-S.19 This did serious damage in Bangalore and in several other pockets across the state.

    The problems that Congress was creating for itself eventually became apparent even in New Delhi. Digvijay Singh (an adroit general secretary who is not given to passivity, and a careful listener who understands the need for close analysis of constituencies) was rushed in to assist. But he was unwisely given a far too narrow brief, and was sent too late to make much difference.20

    As a result, each major state Congress leader tried to maximise his own advantage. Unlike BJP leaders, some of them made public comments criticising senior party


    colleagues. This added to the appearance of disunity.

    Part of the explanation for this disunity emerges if we consider a counter-example (the only one available) which emerged in the state’s small western coastal strip. The BJP has long been unusually strong there, and at the 2004 state election it had swept all of the coastal seats. Congress leaders there felt threatened, so they resolved to unite against two- and three-term BJP MLAs, to reap the benefit of anti-incumbency. The result was a solid performance by Congress which won half the seats in this inhospitable sub-region.21

    The absence of unity elsewhere in the state sprang in part from Congress c omplacency in the early stages of the campaign. The party’s leaders looked at their large lead in the Lokniti survey and thought that they would do well b ecause the BJP and the JD-S had combined uneasily for 20 months in a disunited, c orrupt government. Their complacency was, however, unjustified. They overlooked two other findings from the same survey: 72.9 per cent of respondents were “somewhat” or “fully” satisfied with the work done by that government.22 And over one-third of voters suggested that their preferences might change. E ventually – too late, after a mismanaged campaign – Congress optimism evaporated. On the night before votes were c ounted, the scene at its headquarters in Bangalore was “sombre” – in marked c ontrast to the BJP office.23

    BJP’s Game Plan

    The BJP’s victory owed next to nothing to Hindutva. Here as in most other state elections outside Gujarat, it was seldom mentioned because it has never evoked a popular response. When Narendra Modi came to speak, BJP leaders were so anxious about poor turnouts at his rallies that they located them in pockets where the party had a strong following. But even there, he fell flat. In one venue on the coast, the party prepared for a crowd of 50,000 and only 5,000 came.24

    Nor was its success explained by the constant complaint by Yedyurappa that he had been cheated out of his chance to be chief minister by the JD-S. This claim helped the BJP somewhat, since it resonated with some voters.25 But the party’s main adversary was the Congress, not the JD-S.

    The key to victory – apart from the errors in the Congress campaign – was the BJP’s decision to concentrate its resources in highly promising sub-regions of the state and, still more crucially, in a limited number of contests in apparently uncongenial areas where its private polling has revealed some chance of success. It reaped decisively important rewards in such constituencies. This explains how it won more seats than Congress, even though the latter outpolled it not only overall by

    0.73 per cent, but in rural areas by slightly more: 1.1 per cent.26 Numerous Congress seats were won by large margins, while a huge number of BJP victories came in tight contests.

    The BJP won large numbers of seats – as expected – in urban areas and, more importantly, in rural areas of northern and central Karnataka where Lingayats mainly reside. But also important were unexpected victories in less hospitable areas of the state – notably in and around Bangalore, in Hyderabad Karnataka (a section of the north where Congress leader Siddaramiah’s influence over Kuruba voters was underutilised – see below), and in the far south near Mysore. In these places, the BJP focused heavily on limited numbers of winnable seats and certain persuadable social groups.

    For example, in parts of Bangalore and in nearby areas, Vokkaligas are very influential. The BJP was rightly seen as a Lingayat-dominated party, and Vokkaligas were feeling aggrieved at what they regarded as the loss of 13-14 former Vokkaliga rural seats as a result of delimitation which increased the number of u rban seats. Congress might have addressed their unhappiness by nominating Vokkaligas to winnable urban seats. But it often failed to do so because this would have appeared to favour former chief m inister S M Krishna, a Vokkaliga leader. In greater Bangalore, Congress nominated only five Vokkaligas and won three of those seats. The BJP did far more to reach out to Vokkaligas by nominating 13 of them and giving them lavish support d uring the campaign. Surprisingly, it won 10 of those contests. So Congress ceded too much ground among Vokkaligas,

    october 11, 2008


    not just to the Vokkaliga-led JD-S, but to the BJP.

    Another example of the BJP’s shrewd strategy of concentration emerged in the extreme south of the state – south of Bangalore. Lokniti pre-polls, coordinated by Sandeep Shastri, showed that in most of those constituencies, the contests were between Congress and the JD-S. The BJP saw this too. As Shastri rightly says, there are many seats in the south which it has never won.27

    But by using political intelligence g athered by their pollster and by the RSS

    – which played a similar role in the Madhya Pradesh state election in 2003 – the BJP concentrated its efforts (and the e fforts of RSS cadres, since the BJP has a weak organisation28) on a modest number of seats in this sub-region. They included pockets of Mysore district where Lingayats are present in strength. Despite a strong Congress showing there, the BJP gained a small but respectable number of victories.

    This strategy of concentration was also applied elsewhere. For example, in Bijapur district in the far north, the BJP won 5 of the 8 assembly seats – even though Congress got more votes in the district, and even though the BJP’s vote share in that district decreased slightly from 2004.29

    The weakness of the Congress organisation at district level prevented it from acquiring the early political intelligence that it needed for a full understanding of the BJP’s strategy of concentration. So Congress persisted with its time honoured approach – trying indiscriminately to win every seat in the state. It spread its human and financial resources too thinly.

    A Winnable Election Slips Away

    Prithviraj Chavan went to destructive excess in following what were apparently his instructions from the party high command: to avoid favouritism among state Congress leaders.

    It was perhaps sensible to avoid identifying a candidate for the chief minister’s post, since this would have alienated

    o thers and triggered strife in the organisation. But if Congress had named someone, it would have lent clarity to the campaign against a BJP which proposed its long time leader Yedyurappa for that office. The

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    october 11, 2008

    decision not to select a Congress candidate produced not just confusion, but chaotic, comical results. Sandeep Shastri counted over 20 Karnataka Congress politicians who indicated that they were available for the top job.

    Chavan went far beyond this in his efforts to avoid suspicions of bias towards any Congress leader. Perhaps the most damaging example was his denial of resources and staff support to the PCC which it needed to do its job effectively. They were withheld because that might have been seen as favouring the PPC president, Mallikarjun Kharge.

    To prevent any state leader from gaining undue prominence, Chavan also made the mistake of taking a very public role in dealings with the media. This kept wellknown Karnataka Congress figures out of the public eye. It also meant that public statements to the media often came from Chavan, who was unable to communicate in the language of the state. By contrast, Arun Jaitley who played a similar coordinating role for the BJP allowed state-level leaders to remain the public faces of their party.

    As noted above, state Congress leaders reacted by focusing on seats where their clients were standing. Congress thus fought not one election campaign, but five or six separate campaigns – mostly confined to sub-regions of the state. They were not mutually reinforcing.

    This proved damaging because it weakened these leaders’ impact with their caste fellows outside their limited base areas. Consider for example, the Kuruba leader Siddaramiah. He succeeded in getting his allies tickets in and near Mysore district in the far south of the state – his base area – so naturally, he mainly campaigned there. He and Congress did extremely well there, but this meant that he made almost no i mpact upon the numerically powerful Kurubas far to the north in Hyderabad Karnataka. This appears to have damaged Congress severely there. An early Lokniti poll suggested significant gains for the party in Hyderabad Karnataka, thanks mainly to combined support from Kurubas and Dalits.30 They have been a potent combination there in the past.31 But by polling day, with Siddaramiah mainly campaigning far away in south, the social base of Congress had partially disintegrated in H yderabad Karnataka and numerous seats were lost as a result. Siddaramiah’s failure even to campaign in Tumkur d istrict, which is much closer to his base area, cost Congress Kuruba votes and two seats there.32

    It should be said that the Bahujan S amaj Party cannot be credited (or blamed) for the defeat of Congress. It gained only 2.74 per cent of the popular vote, and it attracted enough Dalit votes to prevent Congress from winning in only a tiny number of seats. In two of these, in Tumkur district, its vote share exceeded the extraordinarily small margins by which Congress candidates lost: 563 in one and 769 in the other.33 But these cases were extreme rarities.

    As the campaign proceeded, and the outlook worsened for Congress, it became apparent to perceptive Congressmen that some of the party’s important leaders had begun to hope that it would not win an outright majority in the assembly.34 They preferred that it gain the most seats in the assembly, but less than half – for two reasons. If it got a majority, the choice of the chief minister would be taken out of their hands by the high command. And if Congress fell short of a majority, the large groups of MLAs loyal to them would give them greater leverage in the bargaining with the JD-S to form a government. This willingness to contemplate and even to prefer something less than a clear victory, which we have occasionally seen within Congress in some other states, proved d isastrous – here as elsewhere.

    We usually hear about how parties win elections, and about long-term trends and structural factors which facilitate their success. Election campaigns always matter, but they seldom decide outcomes. This case is different. This is mainly a story of how a party lost an election, and how short-term factors – especially tactical decisions during the campaign – led to that outcome. Here, the structure of inter-party political competition, confusions caused by delimitation, a lack of both strong antiincumbency sentiments35 and of clarity over who the incumbents actually were – plus the tentative and divided loyalties of certain social groups – created a situation in which small decisions during the


    c ampaign by key leaders in different 14 This is E Raghavan, editor south of the Economic Times.

    p arties could make crucial differences.36


    15 Interview with a middle-level Vokkaliga leader in

    The BJP has come a long way in K arnataka, after many disappointments.37 But the outcome of this election was mainly determined not by the victorious party but by Congress mistakes. Its illconceived campaign entailed not proactive creativity but passive avoidance. The aim was not the energetic construction of party unity, but a hesitant avoidance of disunity. That passivity suggested timidity and inertia, which are hardly inspiring. The effort to offend as few state-level leaders as possible proved counterproductive. It irked all of them and failed to p revent them from openly jockeying for position. This was an election that Congress could and should have won. It squandered the opportunity.


    1 Interview, Bangalore, July 27, 2008. Despite its protests over recent induced defections in the Lok Sabha, the BJP later engineered the defections of eight JD-S and two independent members of the Mysore City Corporation, overtaking Congress as single largest party there. The Hindu, July 30, 2008.

    2 Various opinion polls indicated that former chief minister H D Kumaraswamy was reasonably popular, although respondents preferred that he operate more independently from his father and former prime Minister, H D Deve Gowda.

    3 Interview with Sandeep Shastri, July 24, 2008, and The Hindu, May 28, 2008.

    4 This is explained in detail in E Raghavan and J Manor, Broadening and Deepening Demo cracy: Political Innovation in Karnataka (Routledge, London and New Delhi, forthcoming) chapter four.

    5 Interview, Bangalore, July 26, 2008. 6 The pre-poll statistics come from Lokniti, to which this writer is very grateful for assistance. 7 See also the comments below on the low impact of the visit by Narendra Modi. 8 He had suffered some erosion of OBC support because first Deve Gowda and then the BJP had stressed that Kurubas were taking a disproportionate share of OBC benefits, at the expense of other groups – a tactic which is familiar in some other states. (In Bihar, for example, Nitish Kumar has used it to split Muslims – Indian Express, Delhi, April 4, 2008.) Nevertheless, Siddaramiah retained a strong popular following, as his very strong showing in his base area in the far south of Karnataka demonstrated. 9 The Hindu, May 27, 2008. 10 Note also that when Lokniti asked whether r espondents would refuse to vote for politicians “who keep changing parties”, 19.5 per cent agreed “somewhat” and a huge 44.6 per cent agreed “fully”.

    11 The Hindu, May 28, 2008.

    12 See J Manor, ‘The Congress Defeat in Madhya Pradesh’, Seminar, February 2004. 13 National leaders of the BJP had also arranged an agreement, long before the election took place, between the two most prominent figures in the party in Karnataka – whose squabbling had often done damage in the past. Yedyurappa would be the main face of the BJP in the state while H N Anantha Kumar would enjoy prominence at the national level.

    Congress, Bangalore, July 25, 2008. 16 Interview, Bangalore, July 24, 2008. 17 I am grateful to the former journalist Naryanana

    Gatty, now a political scientist, for stressing this.

    18 S Vishwanath and former state assembly speaker D B Chandre Gowda were also in this group. 19 Draft text for the Deccan Herald by Sandeep

    S hastri, Sanjay Kumar and Yogendra Yadav. 20 This point emerged from discussions with K arnataka Congressmen, not Digvijay Singh. He was not interviewed for this article. 21 I am grateful to Sandeep Shastri and Narayana Gatty for insights into this topic.

    22 Lokniti pre-poll.

    23 The Hindu, May 25, 2008.

    24 In a Lokniti survey, only 17.3 per cent of respondents had heard of Modi’s campaign. Of those, 11.4 per cent said that it had affected their choices – and of those affected, only 5 per cent had swung from other parties to the BJP.

    25 The New Indian Express, May 14 and 21, 2008. The Lokniti pre-poll found that 35 per cent of respondents believed that the JD-S was “fully” or “somewhat” justified in withdrawing support form Yedyurappa’s BJP-led government, while

    34.7 per cent believed that it was “fully” or “somewhat” justified. 26 This evidence comes from the Lokniti post-poll, weighted by actual vote shares. 27 Interview with Sandeep Shastri, July 24, 2008.

    28 Far fewer RSS cadres were active here than in R ajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in 2003. This owed something to the Election Commission’s e fforts to prevent personnel and material from entering the state. But the main explanation lies elsewhere. In those earlier elections, RSS men who spoke Hindi flooded in from neighbouring states, but in the Karnataka election, RSS a ctivists from outside could not communicate in Kannada.

    29 The Hindu, May 27 and 28, 2008. 30 Lokniti pre-poll and a draft text by B S Padmavathi and Veena Devi of Lokniti, sent to the D eccan Herald.

    31 I am grateful to Sandeep Shastri for stressing this point. 32 The Hindu, May 27, 2008. 33 The Hindu, May 27, 2008.

    34 This point was emphasised by two prominent Congressmen in interviews, Bangalore, July 24 and 25, 2008.

    35 Lokniti’s pre-poll survey indicated that all recent Karnataka governments enjoyed reasonable levels of popularity. 63.6 per cent of respondents were “fully” or “somewhat” satisfied with S M Krishna’s Congress government (1999-2004). The Dharam Singh/Kumaraswamy Congress/JD-S coalition government (2004-05) achieved a 58.3 per cent approval rating, the Kumaraswamy/Yedyurappa JD-S/BJP coalition government (2005-07) achieved

    72.9 per cent, and Yedyurappa’s one-week BJP government (2007) achieved 45.5 per cent. The same survey found little anti-incumbency sentiment at constituency level.

    36 I am grateful to Yogendra Yadav for stressing this point. He suggests that the 2003 state election in Rajasthan was a similar case. He also wondered whether in very close elections – such as Rajasthan 2003 and Karnataka 2008 – Congress will tend to lose because it lacks the skills and agility to respond effectively. That latter point was advanced not as an assertion but as a hypothesis worth testing.

    37 See for example, J Manor, ‘Southern Discomfort: The BJP in Karnataka’ in T B Hansen and C Jaffrelot (eds), The BJP and the Compulsions of Politics in India, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1998, pp 163-202.

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    october 11, 2008

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