Karnataka Elections: Rural Votes Act as Springboard for Cong Win

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The Congress won the Karnataka state election by securing the most votes in rural and poor areas, according to the Election Commission of India. The BJP had a better vote share in urban areas, while the Congress had almost equal support in both. The swing towards Congress by Lingayat community voters across key rural belts helped the party to victory. The election was fought over local issues, including three consecutive droughts, the government’s inability to address farm issues and the BJP’s decision to allow firms to buy agricultural land without government approval.

The Congress scooped up the most votes in rural regions and the poorest districts, helping it to wrest Karnataka from the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), pointing to widespread disaffection among farming communities and the electorate in high-poverty areas, analysts said.

The Congress’s total final vote share in the election stands at 42.9%, according to the Election Commission of India (ECI). The major chunk of this share came from rural and semi-rural areas.

According to ECI’s constituency-wise numbers, the Congress more than doubled its share of rural seats, winning 92 of the 143 Assembly segments categorized as rural and semi-rural regions, in contrast to the BJP’s 30. Provisional data crunched by the HT shows the Congress’s rural vote share, at 42%, was about 7 percentage points higher than in 2018. A percentage point is the difference between two percentages.

The BJP had a better vote share in urban constituencies, at 46%, compared to its rural vote share of 37%. The Congress’ urban and rural vote share was nearly the same. The Janata Dal (Secular) too ceded most of its rural votes to the Congress.

The Congress’ performances in rural, semi-rural and reserved constituencies show that the incumbent BJP government’s neoliberal policies and inability to address farm issues were “quite apparent ”, said Ramesh Gurumurthy, a poll analyst for the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. The swing towards Congress by Lingayat community voters across key rural belts was a springboard to victory.

The Karnataka election was squarely fought on local issues. Three consecutive droughts had battered sugarcane and millet growers. Dissent had been festering among farmers since the three farm laws, which had to be repealed by the Modi government in 2021, were enacted, said Kavitha Kuruganti of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture.

Rural voters were firmly behind the Congress. Here are some instances: Congress candidate Laxmi R. Hebbalkar won the Belgaum rural seat with 1,06,805 votes, while BJP’s Nagesh Annappa Manolkar polled only 51,259 votes. In Bangalore rural, the Congress won three out of four seats. The BJP won one seat in the Bangalore rural district. In Vokkaliga-dominated Mandya, the Congress won by a wide margin, defeating the BJP.

The incumbent BJP government’s decision to allow firms to buy agricultural land without government approval or oversight had a negative fallout as even enthusiastic cultivators felt they lost out in bargaining power, according to Ramaswami Nagur, a local farm leader from Bidur district.

In milk-farming districts, the Nandini (a local milk brand) versus Amul (India’s largest dairy brand) issue flared into a fiery political battle between the Congress and the BJP.

In December 2022, in Mandya, the Vokkaliga community heartland, Union home and cooperation minister Amit Shah said the Karnataka Milk Federation (KMF), which owns the local Nandini milk brand, and Gujarat-based Amul, the country’s largest milk cooperative, should come together to boost efficiency and growth of the dairy sector.

The JD(S) and Congress played this issue up as a signal to merge KMF with Amul, as Shah had earlier said five cooperative societies could be merged with Amul. This political messaging soon found resonance with livestock farmers, who had a well-tuned business relationship with the KMF.

In the top five milk-producing districts – Belagavi, Tumkur, Hasan, Mysuru and Mandya – the Congress garnered nearly 40% vote share, up 6 percentage points since 2018. It won 18 more seats than it had in 2018 in these milk-producing districts.

According to Kuruganti, a ban on cattle slaughter, an alleged threat of a takeover of Nandini milk brand and an amendment to the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee Act showed “a very visible resistance among farmers”.

Faced with widespread protests, the Modi government had repleaded three farm laws in 2021, one of which was aimed at opening liberalized agricultural markets. Despite the law being rescinded nationally and large protests by Karnataka’s farmers, the BJP-led Basavaraj Bommai government invoked the law in the state, angering farmers, Nagur said.

Source: Hindustan Times