When we look at the history of BJP’s rise in Indian politics, we realise that the party’s rise coincided with the spread and growth of India as a country from an overwhelmingly rural landscape to an increasingly urban demographic. The first thrust of BJP’s growth in the 1990s was essentially an urban (middle class) phenomenon. Thus, historically, BJP has tended to be an aspirational party, whereas Congress has essentially been a poverty-centric entity.
In the 1990s, BJP used to win almost all the big cities of India in the Parliamentary elections. Except for Kolkata, BJP was a force to reckon with in all other major cities of India (even in Chennai, for that matter). The subsequent fall of the BJP over the last decade has coincided with the party’s dwindling control over the urban vote. In 2009 LS poll, BJP lost almost every major urban centre in India, with the exceptions of Bangalore and Ahmedabad.
The nature of urban vote is such that it is easier to win over, but difficult to hold on to. Urban vote can change hands in a single election cycle. For instance, a Manmohan Singh-led UPA in 2009 became the darling of urban voters with considerable ease, but is likely to lose in a big way in less than 5 years. In contrast, rural vote base takes a longer time to build, but also lasts the test of time. Janata Dal in Karnataka and SP/BSP in UP are prime examples of this phenomenon.
Isn’t it ironic that a fundamentally urban-centric aspirational party actually saw negative growth in the new millennium when compared to its growth trajectory in the 1990s? Considering that India is far more urban today than it ever was in its history (including in the 1990s), BJP should have grown at a faster pace in the last decade. Thankfully, all of that is possibly going to change now. The reason why Narendra Modi has become such an important icon for BJP is because he has set upon himself the task of recreating the BJP magic in urban India.
The BKT region: interestingly poised for a dramatic shift
In electoral terms, this last region of Karnataka is neutral, with each of the three main parties having support base in this region. BJP had dramatically increased its tally in these areas last time, but seems to be suffering from anti-incumbency after the party’s longish stint at governance. JDS and Congress are vying with each other to capture this essentially urban vote to dethrone the BJP. The recently-held ULB poll did not cover vast areas of Bangalore, so it is difficult to gauge the trends purely based on those results, yet there are some broad pointers to be found from the ULB polls.
Urban Local Body poll 2013
Assembly election 2008
LS polls 2009 (Assembly segment leads)
Data Source: Election Commission of India and Karnataka State Election Commission
In the 2008 Assembly election, BJP had won about 22 per cent of its total seats from this region, whereas Congress had got 27 per cent of its seats and JDS 20 per cent of its own tally from here. This is by far the largest of the six electoral regions and accounts for 52 Assembly seats or about 23 per cent of the total seats. The largest chunk of 28 Assembly seats constitute the Bangalore urban district. Although only Anekal CMC was part of the recent ULB polls, the result of that shows an upper hand for the BJP.
Even today, BJP seems to have an edge over its rivals at least in the Bangalore urban district, but the bits and pieces it was able to add from the other four districts in 2008 might not accrue this time around. Thus BJP’s thrust would be to maximise its gains in the Bangalore urban areas. JDS is hoping to dent the Congress strength in the non-Bangalore urban districts of this region. JDS has stood at the pole position in Kolar, Tumkur and Chikkaballapur districts in the ULB poll, so it is reasonably better placed to upset the Congress applecart.
Land mafia, Caste politics and development issues
Traditionally, Vokkaligas are the dominant caste here, which explains the strong presence of JDS in this region. Lingayats are also concentrated in pockets, especially in Tumkur district. A large section of Telugu-speaking population is present in Chikkaballapur district, who have been traditional Congress voters, but now there is a new dynamic of Jagan Reddy for them to cope with. A section of the Tamil-speaking populace is also present in Kolar and Bangalore districts, who usually tend to look for voting guidance from AIADMK and subtle messages from Jayalalithaa.
SCs, STs and minorities form the core vote base of Congress, especially in Kolar and Bangalore rural districts. Most constituencies here will likely see a three-cornered fight. KJP is limited to Tumkur district where a large number of Lingayats are present.
Apart from caste, the major talking points here are development issues. The 28 constituencies of Bangalore urban region might by and large vote on development issues rather than just caste or identity. BJP’s scorecard in Bangalore has been reasonably satisfactory. Better infrastructure like good roads, flyovers and grid separators, Metro connectivity etc. are some of the positives of the BJP Government. Here even the power situation has been reasonably managed unlike northern Karnataka. There have been some issues of water supply and garbage management, but overall ratings are positive.
Although BJP has not got positive Press in this regard, the land mafia menace has considerably reduced in Bangalore and surrounding regions in the last 2-3 years. Yet, the biggest issue in this election, like in every election of recent past, would be of astronomical election expenditure. In 2008, the rough estimate of average expenditure per candidate, per constituency in Bangalore region was Rs 15 crore. This time that figure is likely to go up to Rs 25 crore! With that kind of serious money involved, electioneering here is a nightmare for every political party.
Finally, Narendra Modi could possibly storm Bangalore if he campaigns effectively here. The NaMo factor is being discussed vigorously in Bangalore and Congress candidates are working on contingency plans to counter any last moment campaigning by NaMo. Many Congress and JDS candidates admit privately that they are jittery of spending humungous amounts of money only to lose it all because of an aggressive NaMo campaign in the end.