The three basic questions any reporter is taught to ask is: when; where and how. In the context of the Karnataka Assembly election 2018, another one needs to be added: ‘for how long’.
The dismantling of the Siddaramaiah regime began nearly 18 months ago, when B S Yeddyurappa took office as the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – much to the chagrin of rival party leaders like K Eshwarappa and Jagadish Shettar, even one-time protege and loyalist Sadananda Gowda – and proceeded to break the AHINDA (an acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits) caste coalition that brought the Congress to power in 2013.
The Congress had gained from the backing of the minorities and the Dalits. The first, Yeddyurappa knew he could not do anything about. The second, he could. He embarked on a back-breaking campaign across Karnataka to win over the Dalits. He ate with them, attended weddings, birthdays and christenings. He kissed babies and felicitated leaders. It was like building bridges with a community that had been oppressed brutally by other castes in Karnataka over the years.
Dalits in Karnataka are not inconsiderable. They number anywhere between 19 and 23 per cent and are divided between the backward and extremely backward Dalits (the Left Hand and the Right Hand Dalits). Yeddyurappa’s own caste, the Ligayats have not been particularly favourably disposed to them. But Yedyurappa sought apologies for excesses, if any, and promised to work for them.
Apparently, that paid off. Without breaking the Dalit stronghold of the Congres, the BJP could not have posted such a victory.
He refused to say anything on the subject. This is the same man who, in one of his budgets, made a special outlay for Lingayat Mutts. But communities are cleverer than we think. A Lingayat in Badami, Siddaramaiah’s constituency, said the special status to the community was nothing more than an electoral plot to break the Lingayats into Lingayats and Veerashaivas, so that their votes could be divided. It was just a Siddaramaiah plot, he said. In other words, While Yeddyurappa elevated what was a divisive step by elevating it to lofty statesmanship, voters saw Siddaramaiah’s move as a grubby vote-catching mechanism.
In some ways, it was the social welfare schemes of Siddaramaiah that saved the Congress’ blushes: Together, the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) will be occupying the Vidhana Soudha benches as a strong and aggressive Opposition because the Bhagya schemes and Indira canteens got them a lot of traction. But the question is what the new regime would do with them.
While talking to Business Standard about a year ago, Yeddyurappa was asked what his Big Idea would be if he became chief minister. His answer: “Tourism, madam.... a lot of scope in the state”. But tourism is hardly going to solve the problems of the state. It needs water, but Karnataka does not have the land to create storage facilities. It needs to offer to subvent crop insurance to offer farmers a measure of security. Siddaramaiah’s agri-power scheme (power at low rates of tariff) was popular. But how many popular schemes will Yeddyruappa continue?
During the campaign, when asked whom they were voting for, the BJP-minded voters responded: ‘Modi’. Not one said ‘Yeddyurappa’. Hence the question: Yeddyurappa? But for how long?