Bellwether Seats: Will they again show the way in the Karnataka Assembly polls 2023?

Shirahatti (SC), Yelburga, Byndoor, Tarikere, Harapanahalli, Jevargi, Gadag, Davanagere North are the bellwether seats in Karnataka.

ByPavan Korada

Published Feb 21, 2023 | 1:00 PM Updated Apr 25, 2023 | 3:29 PM

Karnataka Assembly elections 2023 bellwether seats

Predicting election results is a national sport in India. This is evident from the shrieking host of a TV debate to the palavering politician or person on the street. Some guess while some estimate. Many get it wrong while only a few get it right. Nonetheless, all predict with much conviction.

With less than 100 days to go for the exercise to elect members of the 16th Karnataka Assembly, there will be predictions galore. Amidst scientific forecasts by sober psephologists, we offer a not-so-scientific guide to assess the trends by looking at the “bellwether” seats in Karnataka.

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What are bellwether seats?

Bellwether

Bellwether (Wikimedia Commons)

A bellwether seat, also known as a swing seat or a key seat, is a political constituency or electoral district that is seen as an indicator of the overall electoral trend in an election.

In other words, if a particular party wins or loses a bellwether seat, it is seen as a good predictor of the party’s performance in the wider election.

The term “bellwether” originally comes from the practice of placing a bell around the neck of a leading sheep (known as the “bellwether”) in a flock, so that the sound of the bell would guide them all.

Similarly, in politics, a bellwether seat is seen as leading or guiding the outcome of the wider election. Bellwether seats can be identified based on their voting patterns in past elections.

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Bellwether Seats in Karnataka

For the purposes of this article, we are starting with the 1978 Assembly elections. And that throws up the following as bellwether seats in Karnataka: Shirahatti (SC), Yelburga, Byndoor, Tarikere, Harapanahalli, Jevargi, Gadag and Davanagere North.

The Scheduled Caste reserved constituency of Shirahatti in Gadag district has managed to vote eight times for the single-largest party in elections since 1978. It, in fact, registered an unbroken streak from 1989 to 1999 and again from 2008 to 2018.

Yelburga in Koppal district has voted seven times for the single-largest party. It registered an unbroken streak from 2008 to 2018.

Bellwether Seats in Karnataka

Bellwether Seats in Karnataka

Byndoor from Udipi district voted seven times for the single-largest party. It too has registered an unbroken streak from 2008 to 2018.

Tarikere in Chikkamagaluru district voted seven times for the single-largest party. Since 2008, it maintained this unbroken streak.

Harapanahalli in Vijayanagara district has voted six times for the single-largest party. It had an unbroken streak from 2008 to 2018.

Jevargi in Kalaburgi district managed to vote five times for the single-largest party while Gadag in the erstwhile Dharwad district has voted four times for the single-largest party.

Davanagere North, which split from the erstwhile Davanagere constituency in 2008, from the eponymous Devanagere district, has voted three times in a row for the single-largest party since 2008.

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How they voted over the years

In the 1978 Assembly elections, Yelburga, Shirahatti (SC), Harapanahalli, Tarikere, Jevargi and Byndoor voted for the Indian National Congress (INC) which formed the government with Devaraj Urs as the chief minister.

In 1983, Byndoor voted for the Janata Party which formed the government with Ramakrishna Hegde as the chief minister.

In 1985, Yelburga, Shirahatti (SC) and Tarikere voted for the Janata Party, which formed the government with Ramakrishna Hegde again as the chief minister.

In 1989, Shirahatti (SC), Harapanahalli, Gadag, Tarikere, Jevargi and Byndoor voted for the INC which formed the government with Veerendra Patil as the chief minister.

In 1994, Yelburga and Shirahatti (SC) both voted for the Janata Dal which formed the government with HD Deve Gowda as the chief minister.

In 1999, Yelburga, Shirahatti (SC), Gadag, Harapanahalli, Tarikere, Jevargi and Byndoor voted for the INC which went on to form the government with SM Krishna as the chief minister.

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Coalition era: When the bellwethers failed

Interestingly, in 2004, none of these bellwether seats voted for the BJP, which emerged as the single-largest party. The Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S), and INC formed the first coalition government in Karnataka with Dharam Singh as the chief minister.

However the coalition did not last long as the JD(S) pulled out of the coalition and joined forces with the BJP to form another coalition government, with its leader HD Kumaraswamy as the chief minister and BJP’s BS Yediyurappa as the deputy chief minister.

In 2008, all bellwether seats, including the newly-formed Davanagere North, voted for the BJP, which went on to form the government in Karnataka for the first time with BS Yediyurappa as the chief minister.

In 2013, again all these bellwether seats voted for the INC which formed the government with Siddaramaiah as the chief minister.

In 2018, Yelburga, Shirahatti (SC), Harapanahalli, Tarikere, Byndoor and Davanagere North all voted for the BJP which emerged as the single-largest party, but failed to form the government as the INC, along with the JD(S) formed a coalition government with HD Kumaraswamy as the chief minister.

This coalition did not last long (only 14 months) and the BJP formed the government in 2019 with Yediyurappa as the chief minister.

So, punters, politicians and politically aware people out there should watch out for the trends emerging from these seats to make a safe bet as political parties often focus their campaign efforts on these seats, as winning them can provide a psychological advantage and help sway public opinion.