Like any other State issues and aspirations in Karnataka change as per the regions. The political party that would be able to address these concerns collectively can only get the support of the people
Even after the ‘Ekikarana’ (unification) movement led to the identification and formation of Karnataka in 1956, the regional aspirations of people have always become a hot issue during the elections. Even election manifestoes and campaigns are based on the regions that were marked by the British. The Mumbai-Karnataka, Hyderabad-Karnataka, Central, Coastal, Old Mysore region and Bengaluru form the six regions of Karnataka. The regional aspirations and historical factors in these regions have been conducive for one party and unfavourable for others till a decade ago.
Though the aspirations of the people of these regions have been changing, many core issues still bother them. In the coming elections also it is expected that the regions will vote based on several parameters with performance of the candidate and State Government being the most important.
The Hyderabad Karnataka is the north eastern part of the State. This region is India’s second largest arid region after parts of Rajasthan. Though two major rivers, Krishna and Tungabhadra, flow through the region, water for agriculture has been an long standing issue. Lack of network of canals has resulted in reducing the agricultural output.
The region also lags behind other regions in most developmental indices. The neglect of the Nizams during their rule and the tyranny of the Razzakars had drained the region by the time it became a part of Karnataka. Another reason for the backwardness of the region is that it is land-locked. For Example, the Kalaburagi and Yadagir districts which were part of the undivided Gulbarga district till 2010, lack in basic indices even to this day. Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjuna Kharge has been representing this area since 1970s and yet 96.92 per cent of Kalaburagi and 100 per cent of Yadgir’s Grama Panchayats are below the State’s Human Development Index average. Many other districts suffer from similar neglect.
Even after Article 371 was promulgated to benefit the region, there has been no much improvement on the ground and the promises made by the Congress in 2013 have been mere lip service. Farmers’ suicides have increased in the region during the last 5 years. The region had given more than 50 per cent of the seats to the Congress. Despite this, the locals blame the Government and their MLA’s for neglecting the region’s aspirations.
Mahadayi River Issue
The region which was under the Bombay Presidency and was neglected by the British, continued to be ignored even after Independence. Frequent droughts in the region have affected and agitated the farmers. Mahadayi river issue which has been unresolved since 1980 was further vitiated by Sonia Gandhi’s parochial outbursts in 2007. This has resulted in lack of water for the farmers in many areas. The agitating farmers were lathi-charged by the Siddaramaiah’s Government in 2016. The protests failed to wake up the Government as it never took conclusive actions to resolve the dispute. Neither formal talks were held with the Government in Goa nor any attempts were made to bring the Congress party in Goa on board. All Siddaramaiah and his Government did was blame Modi, who became PM in 2014, for having neglected the issue!
The Mumbai-Karnataka region has sizeable presence of the Lingayat community who have traditionally shown their inclination towards the BJP. It was this inclination that the Siddaramaiah’s Government wished to break with the separate religion card. How this move will affect the fortunes of the parties, is yet to be seen.
Cattle Smuggling & Love Jihad
The coastal region of Karnataka is economically better off than many other regions. It had been a BJP stronghold since the 1980s. The onslaught of Jihadi forces and appeasement policy of Congress Governments have played a role in the voting preferences of the people here. The recent murders of Hindu activists during this Congress regime, increase in cases of Love Jihad, unrestrained cattle smuggling, are sure to play a role in the coming elections. While unemployment amongst youth is another issue, Congress in its term focused on dividing the electorate than solving these issues. The BJP which lost miserably in the region in 2013, aims to make a comeback.
Central Karnataka was a part of the mighty Vijayanagara Empire between the 14th and 17th centuries. Consequently after the fall of the Vijayanagar Empire, the region bore the brunt of the Bahamani Sultans and suffered under them. Several areas came under the Wodeyars of Mysore and saw better days till independence. Post-Independence in 1956, the State of Mysore was created, with certain regions from Hyderabad, Bombay, and Madras joining with the Princely State of Mysore. Veerashaivas are the dominating community in Central Karnataka, while the SC/STs and other backward communities also have a significant composition in the region.
The region faces severe water crisis and majority of the region does not have access to safe water. The State Government’s lack of planning and water management has resulted in degradation of fresh water sources. Coconut, Acrecanut, and Sericulture farmers suffer from problems like lack of irrigation system, Minimum Support Price (MSP), and farming loan debts. Despite several budgetary allocations, lack of proper implementation has failed to help the farmers here.
Most of the districts in this region were part of the Princely State of Mysore. Post Independence and almost till the late 1990’s, Congress was in a dominant position in most constituencies of this region. Today, the three primary political outfits the BJP, Congress and JD(S) have somewhat equal influence here.
One of the grouse of the people here is the unplanned and extensive development which has severely affected the environment in the region. While mismanagement of water resources has created water crisis in the region in last few years, neglect of farming sector and alternate vocations has seen a rise in farmers’ suicides and unemployment.
The region has also witnessed migration of people from other areas in the State and beyond to seize the employment opportunities here. This has put lot of stress on the resources of the region, while creating a huge population of urban poor. The Government too has failed to address the issue of migration for jobs and create opportunities locally.
Massive urbanisation and growing population due to workforce migration has seen Bengaluru face issues that are part of fast-growing cities in developing countries. The region faces issues of increasing slum settlements, health epidemics, and pollution. Investment in infrastructure and urban planning has taken a backseat in the last 5 years of Congress’ rule. This is also the major poll plank of the BJP on which it wishes to win seats here.
According to a recent report, Bengaluru is set to become like Cape Town in terms of water shortage. The city is expected to run out of water by 2030. The Government of the day in the last 5 years never planned for alternate water sources for the city or invested in improvement of existing ponds and lakes. The city also suffers from civic issues. Sewage and drains are choked up as local authorities and Government have time and again failed to restructure the water usage in the city and sewage management.
Region-wise Voting Patterns
Hyderabad-Karnataka: The Hyderabad Karnataka region has 31 seats in the State Legislative Assembly, while the region includes some of the most economically backward areas of the state. The BJP had performed very well in the 2008 elections in the region and could not repeat the same during 2013. Congress had won 17, BJP + KJP had won 8. While many in the region have rejected the separate religion move for the Lingayats, the overall voting preferences will need to be seen in the coming polls.
Mumbai-Karnataka: The region of Bombay Karnataka has preferred the BJP in the last 2 decades in various elections. The Lingayat community has a major say in deciding the winners here. Leaders like JH Patel, Ramakrishna Hegde, and former Chief Minister of the State SR Bommai, have dominated the political scene in the region. Bombay Karnataka was once considered a Janata Dal(S) bastion, but with the collapse of JD(S) in the State, the region has become a BJP bastion with many JD(S) leaders switching their alliance to join BJP, especially in the last 4 elections. In the 2008 State Assembly elections, the BJP managed a comprehensive victory on the 16 seats out of the 18 seats in the region. The Party achieved a similar feat in the 2009 General Assembly elections by adding one more seat to their 2008 Assembly elections tally. However in 2013, the infighting in the BJP allowed the Congress to win majority of the seats as BJP won only 4 seats. But a reunited BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections won 16 out 18 seats, a feat the party hopes to repeat in the ensuing Assembly elections.
Coastal Karnataka: The coastal region of Karnataka is considered to be a BJP stronghold. But the 2013 elections belied this hitherto accepted fact. The BJP could not put up a united front in the 2013 Assembly elections and hence the Congress did extremely well in the coastal districts and won 14 seats out of the 19 seats in the region. But now with the BJP presenting a united front and the Congress, facing anti-incumbency and wrath of Hindu voters, the BJP has a herculean task of defending the seats which it won in 2013.
Central Karnataka: Both the BJP and the Congress have somewhat equal influence in the region. The BJP’s performance in the 2013 Assembly elections was a disaster after the party split and so did the votes. The Congress had the last laugh here too as the BJP managed to win just 2 seats out of the 32 seats spread across four districts of Central Karnataka. Will the BJP be able to reverse the trend and beat the Congress, has to be seen?
Old Mysore region: The voters have been divided equally among the BJP, the Congress and the JD(S) as the three have somewhat equal influence in this region. The BJP and JD(S) are strong in some sub-regions whereas the Congress has influence in the entire region. The Vokkaligas are a significant community here. The BJP had fared badly here too in the 2013 elections. With the induction of SM Krishna, former Congress CM who belongs to the Vokkaliga community, the party expects major gains here.
While the Congress won 24 seats out of the 50 seats in the region in 2013, the rest of the seats were shared between the JD(S), the BJP and independents.
Bangalore region: The BJP has historically done well here, ever since the 1990s when it was considered as an urban party. People across caste and communities have voted for the BJP in majority of the constituencies for the last 4 elections. Being a cosmopolitan city with a sizable population of educated middle class, who have origins in other states, reaching them has been a challenge for any party. However, this vote block has also favoured the BJP in recent times. However with their traditional vote bank and that of minorities, the Congress is also a major player in these elections and not a pushover. But lack of focus on infrastructure, poor civic governance and goondaism by the Congress leaders and their kins is sure to affect its prospects in the region.