Karnataka has 20 percent Dalit voters and Mayawati can play a pivotal role in bringing this large chunk of voters towards JD(S), which is planning to bring AIMIM too in this alliance
After clinching additional one seat in the Uttar Pradesh Rajya Sabha elections, the BJP state unit may be elated but its National President Amit Shah was quite choosy in his selection of words while congratulating the party and its various ranks of workers. He even tried to hide his joy after trumping BSP candidate Bhim Rao Ambedkar in UP Rajya Sabha Polls. Poll pundits may be mixed over such reserved reaction from the BJP President but not one man who would be smiling over this reaction from Amit Shah was sitting down south in Karnataka. The Vokkaliga leader knows what BJP may have to pay for this move in UP Rajya Sabha Polls and how BSP supremo Mayawati can make it tough for the ‘party with difference’ in upcoming Karnataka Assembly Polls due in next two months. Since, JD(S) has stitched alliance with BSP in Karnataka Assembly Polls and Asaduddin Owaisi of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) is expected to join this new front in Karnataka, the third alternative led by Deve Gowda is expected to emerge with deadly combination of Dalit-Muslim and Vokkaliga, which constitutes near 47 percent of the net voters in Karnataka.
A surprisingly large part of Karnataka — nearly 20 percent of the total population — consists of Dalits, found a survey conducted two years ago by the Karnataka State Commission for backward classes. The report is yet to be made public. It was leaked in 2016 and showed Dalits as the single-largest group in the state, followed by Muslims at 16 percent. The upper-caste Lingayats, traditionally BJP voters, and Vokkaligas, who support Deve Gowda’s JD(S), account for 14 percent and 11 percent respectively. Both communities have huge political power and leaders like Deve Gowda and the BJP’s presumptive chief minister, BS Yeddyurappa, and have disputed the figures fearing it could diminish their standing: half of all national and state lawmakers from Karnataka, across parties, are either Lingayats or Vokkaligas.
“Any party which wants to win Karnataka, whether it’s the Congress, BJP or JD(S) will need a large chunk of the Scheduled Caste vote. This time, we have many options, and no one can take us for granted,” says Anand Kuma, the principal of a government school in Hubbali in a Dalit-dominated neighbourhood. In UP, Mayawati’s candidate for the Rajya Sabha was a Dalit, Bhim Rao Ambedkar. The fact the BJP ran an upper caste baniya candidate against him will be underscored by her party.
Deve Gowda’s JD(S), desperate to return to the centre-stage of Karnataka politics after a decade of anonymity, rushed to forge an early alliance with Mayawati; its terms mean the BSP will contest 20 of about 60 constituencies that are influenced by Dalits. Deve Gowda’s party hopes Mayawati and the campaigners she deploys to Karnataka will urge Dalits to avenge the UP Rajya Sabha defeat.
But as with all elections and caste calculations, the complexities are plenty. “Dalits in Karnataka are already angry with Union Minister Anant Kumar Hegde, the MP from Uttara Kannada, for disrespecting Dr Ambedkar after he claimed his government plans to change the Indian Constitution. Now Mayawati will bring her own narrative of injury to the election and try to gain sympathy. But the Dalits are a divided community and are unlikely to vote as a bloc,” says Nila, a social activist from the JD(S) stronghold of Hassan.
The Dalit divide in Karnataka is broad-based and largely between the Chalavadis, referred to as “Right Hand” and the Madigas or the “Left Hand”. While the Chalavadis have traditionally been associated with the Congress, the Madigas drifted towards the BJP after the disintegration of the Janata Dal in the 1990s – it is this vote bank that Deve Gowda wants to recover with Mayawati’s help. His party lost around 20 seats in last state election in 2013 by less than 5,000 votes. Even a small transfer of the BSP’s Dalit votes could lead to substantial gains.
Mayawati’s foray into Karnataka also threatens the incumbent Congress which draws its strength from AHINDA, a coalition of Alpasankhyataru or minorities, Hindulidavaru or backward classes, and Dalitaru or Dalits. While Siddaramaiah himself is from a shepherd community, the Congress has strong Dalit leaders in the state including state vice-president L Hanumanthaiah who was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Karnataka today.
While the Congress and the BJP could be hurt by Mayawati’s play in Karnataka, she is also at risk by entering a pre-poll alliance for the first time since her promotion to BSP president 15 years ago. Her social engineering strategies began failing in UP and then her Dalit base abandoned her for the BJPs development rhetoric in 2014. That has forced her to navigate a greatly changed political landscape. Hence the early experiment of a partnership with Akhilesh Yadav. Hence the Karnataka tie-up with Deve Gowda. If the Karnataka gamble works, a long-term pact with Akhilesh Yadav for 2019 will look very attractive to 62-year-old Behen-ji.
Deve Gowda and she aren’t Relationship Goals, however. In the case of a hung assembly (predicted by two opinion polls), he is more likely to tie up with the BJP, given the personal animosity between his party president, HD Kumaraswamy, and Chief Minister Siddaramaiah. If the BSP does manage to win a few seats, it is highly doubtful that Mayawati, combatting the BJP in in Uttar Pradesh, will be part of any such deal.
For now, though, her partner says her stock in Karnataka is high after the Gorakhpur defeat of Yogi Adityanath. “Yogi Adityanath is the star campaigner for the BJP in coastal Karnataka. But the people of the state don’t subscribe to his communal and divisive agenda. They see Mayawati as a tough politician who grounded the high-flying Yogi,” senior JD(S) leader Basavaraj Horatti said.