Karnataka Phase 1 Lok Sabha poll: Resurgent Congress vs determined BJP

In Karnataka, elections are happening against the backdrop of an impressive Congress victory and BJP's political humiliation a year ago.

ByB S Arun

Published Apr 27, 2024 | 4:00 PM Updated Apr 27, 2024 | 4:00 PM

Polling booth in Mysuru, Karnataka. (iStock)

The 14 constituencies that went to the polls in the first phase of Lok Sabha elections in Karnataka on 26 April have witnessed a fierce, direct showdown between the Congress and the BJP-Janata Dal (Secular) combine.

In 2019, the BJP won 11 of these 14 seats. The saffron outfit swept the 2019 polls in the state, winning 25 of the 28 seats, and also ensured the victory of a party-backed Independent in the state. Last time, the JD(S) had an alliance with the Congress, but the two parties won just one seat each, thanks to the lack of coordination at the leaders’ level and on the ground.

In Karnataka, elections are happening against the backdrop of an impressive victory Congress scored by winning 135 seats a year ago; the ruling BJP was humiliated as it ended up with 66. As usual, JD(S) was a distant third with 19 seats and its lowest tally, but it was also badly mauled. In these 14 seats, Congress had won 63 assembly segments in the 2023 elections, followed by BJP at 33, JDS at 14, and 2 Independents, totalling 112.

However, that mammoth victory is no guarantee for a repeat performance in the current elections. Karnataka’s electorate has always distinguished between the elections in the state assembly and parliamentary polls. The remaining 14 constituencies of north Karnataka, including one of Shivamogga from the south, will go to polls on 7 May.

Also read: Boycott, unrest mar Karnataka poll

Tight battle for every seat

In the first phase, the turnout was nearly the same as in 2019 – 69 percent, with Mandya scoring the highest at 80 percent and Bengaluru city hovering between 53 and 54 percent.

This time, Karnataka is considered one of the most important states for BJP and Congress. BJP, after the 2023 drubbing, desperately wants to bag as many as possible, but a resurgent Congress is not letting it go easily. There is a fight for nearly every seat, and Congress appears to be on a better wicket in some of them.

However, the coming together of BJP and JD(S) seems to be paying off because of a good understanding between the leaders of the two parties as well as workers at the ground level, barring Hassan. In this Vokkaliga stronghold, BJP’s state general secretary, Preetham Gowda, is up against the official NDA candidate Prajwal Revanna.

All the seats that went to the polls yesterday are situated in south Karnataka, where the JD(S) once held sway. In 2023, the Congress broke the JD(S) hold over the Vokkaliga heartland of Mandya by sweeping the district and performing well in the other Vokkaliga-dominated districts of south Karnataka.

Both major parties, especially the saffron outfit, faced a massive rebellion over ticket distribution in most seats. Both parties pacified most of the rebels, but the BJP expelled one of its seniormost leaders, backward Kuruba (shepherd) community leader K S Eshwarappa, bete noire of BJP veteran and Lingayat strongman B S Yediyurappa, as he is contesting against sitting MP B Y Raghavendra, son of BSY, in Shivamogga.

A Congress leader, Anil Kumar, is in a contest in Davanagere as an independent. The rebel factor in these two seats and internal disquiet against official nominees may cause trouble for both parties, especially the BJP. The saffron party refused to renominate some 15 sitting MPs, while Congress, which could not find proper candidates, brought in over ten new faces.

Related: EC books Tejaswi

Fight for Vokkaliga leadership

Kith and kin of leading politicians in all three parties fill the Karnataka electoral field. Two politically important families of JD patriarch H D Deve Gowda and Yediyurappa are leading the pack. Gowda’s son and former chief minister HD Kumaraswamy (HDK) is contesting in Mandya, Gowda’s grandson (son of HD Revanna, MLA) is contesting from the family fiefdom of Hassan (both contesting from JD) and Gowda’s son-in-law Dr CN Manjunath, a well-known cardiologist, contesting on a BJP ticket, from Bangalore Rural.

Yediyurappa’s son Raghavendra is fighting to retain his Shivamogga seat. Yediyurappa himself has declared that he has retired from active politics but continues to be a BJP Parliamentary Board member. His other son, BY Vijayendra, is MLA and BJP state president.

There are some interesting fights this time. All eyes are on Bangalore Rural and Mandya and a few other seats. In Bangalore Rural, Dr Manjunath took on D K Suresh, MP since 2013. Suresh is the brother of Deputy CM D K Shivakumar (DKS). Though DKS is not contesting, the Mandya fight has turned out to be a battle between him and HDK.

There is also an undeclared fight between the two leaders for the leadership of the powerful Vokkaliga community. It is also true that a lot hinges on the Mandya and Hassan seats for the JD(S) as its leaders attempt to retain the party’s relevance.

Related: No help from BJP, says Deve Gowda

JD(S) has some bitter memories 

In 2019, HDK fielded his son Nikhil from Mandya against Sumalatha, who was contesting to be a BJP-backed Independent. Film actor Sumalatha is the wife of the late MP Ambareesh, who also made a name as a film hero. Sumalatha had trounced Nikhil, and thus ended Nikhil’s debut fight.

She has now joined the BJP but has not campaigned for anybody. Nikhil later tried his luck from the Ramanagara assembly seat (part of Bangalore Rural LS constituency) in 2023 but lost, too. For HDK, this fight is also about avenging his son’s defeat. For DKS, it is about establishing his supremacy over the Vokkaliga heartland, which would increase his profile in the party and among his supporters.

Elsewhere, the BJP is making a determined bid to retain the three Bengaluru seats it has been winning successively. Bangalore South, North and Central had been under its control for quite some time. In the South, which the party has been reigning since 1991, Congress won only once (in 1989) after the seat was carved out in 1977.

Siddaramaiah’s allegation of the BJP-ruled Centre’s “step-motherly attitude” towards Karnataka in not releasing flood relief fund, murder of college-going Neha, a Lingayat by her Muslim classmate in Hubballi, the Muslim quota issue as raised by PM Narendra Modi, are some of the topics that have come to the fore over the last couple of weeks besides the guarantees given by the state government and ‘Modi ki guarantee’.

Congress had seemingly taken the lead in the campaign with the drought relief issue, but the murder of the college-going and the initial statements by the CM and home minister G Parameshwara, which seemed to be unsympathetic to the victim, reportedly put the Congress on the back foot. However, some quick steps taken by Congress resulted in controlling the damage.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Bengaluru)

(Edited by VVP Sharma)