After successfully capturing Delhi and Punjab, Aam Admi Party (AAP) has set its dreams down south, targeting Karnataka. A welcome move at a time when Karnataka has gained notoriety as one of the worst administered and corrupt States in the country, leaving behind traditionally notorious states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

AAP and its supremo Arvind Kejriwal seems to be gaining popularity in Karnataka among educated urban people, who are considered to be elite intellectuals. There is a burden on Kejriwal to take his message and mission to masses to make an impact in Karnataka.

However, the million-dollar question is whether Kejriwal is making the right moves to find a way into Karnataka rural masses? Secondly, does Karnataka have a political space for another force?

Delhi, which was a Union Territory turned State had tried two political parties – both Congress and BJP. There was a political vacuum for the City State, where the administration was similar to a city municipality. Successive governments had failed to provide basic amenities to common people, forcing them to think of a third force.

However, Punjab was a different ball game altogether. After 1983 anti-Sikh riots, the state had developed anti-Congress sentiments. It had to try various factions of Akali movement and later give chance for Akali and Nationalistic BJP alliance also. When the administration went from bad to worse, leaving the entire youths under clutches of drug mafia, the people looked back towards Congress. However, feuding factions within Congress, Akali movement falling in grip of family opened up avenue for new platform in the form of AAP.

At the moment, Karnataka is also undergoing a similar situation. Drug mafia has almost penetrated into the system. Though the police are concentrating only on African Nationals behind drug supplies net, there are other groups operating from neighboring Goa, Maharashtra and Kerala.

Politically, the State has tested all the three political parties. JD(S) headed by former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda is nothing but a family party and is now restricted to few districts of Old Mysuru region. Both Congress and BJP have time and again failed the people. Worst is that there are feuding factions in both BJP and Congress, who are ready to defeat their own party for gaining upper hand within the party. Unlike Punjab, JD(S) has not shown hesitation to join hands with both Congress and BJP to share power. There probably could not have been a better time for testing waters in Karnataka.
Though they have some followers in Karnataka, the official launch took place a fortnight ago. There are two questions regarding this. Is this the right time to make the right moves in choosing leaders in Karnataka? Secondly, are people of Karnataka ready to accept a new party?

Announcing that the party would contest 2023 general elections to Karnataka Assembly, Arvind Kejriwal joined hands with a faction of Karnataka’s farmers’ movement — Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS) headed by Kodihalli Chandrashekhar. Kejriwal is eyeing on some of the bureaucrats, who are fed up with the system. It is not a secret that Kejrwal is trying to woo some of the former and present legislators in all the three parties!
As a matter of fact, KRRS headed by Kodihalli Chandrashekhar is just a faction of the farmers’ movement that started in Karnataka way back in 1983 by Prof Nanjundaswamy. At that point, the movement was so strong that there were hopes that the farmers would form the government. They won over dozen seats and were part of the first anti-Congress government in the State headed by Ramakrshina Hegde. After 1985 elections, the decline started and the KRRS divided multiple times and one of the factions is being headed by Kodihalli Chandrashekhar.

The problem is that Karnataka is one of the most developed states, where agriculture has lost its traditional value. Development of allied services in IT sector has created more urban jobs, forcing most of the agricultural labors to migrate to cities. The land lords are struggling to cope up with the agriculture and are waiting for industrial development near their lands to convert them either to residential or commercial purpose.

The other problem is of irrigation. The development has killed most of the water bodies in plain lands. The other problem is irrigation. Though Karnataka has large irrigation facility, most of the water is being diverted for catering needs of growing industrialization. Most of the local water sources like tanks and lakes have been encroached, dried and converted into housing layouts in rural areas also. The borewells have gone thousands of feet down, spewing venom instead of water. Under the circumstances, the farmer organisations have less followers than the leaders themselves.

The second set of group AAP scouting is the retired/politically ambitious bureaucrats to promise clean administration. One thing Kejriwal should remember is that even the bureaucrats are equal or little bigger partners in the corruption in administration. If there are some honest bureaucrats that are left, they are just freshers and not in the top order. Media savvy and mavericks in using social media handles, some of the senior bureaucrats have tried creating an honest image for themselves. That is the main reason behind Karnataka former bureaucrats have so far failed in their political endeavors.

The promises of AAP itself may not look attractive to either middle class or lower middle class in Karnataka. The freebees like power, water, housing already exist for the lower order of society, which has been over exploited. They constitute largest chunk of voters. The best education by government can best be a joke in Karnataka. There are a number of good government schools in Karnataka, which give best results in Class X public examinations. However, even in rural areas, they don’t get many admissions. Long ago, Karnataka has tuned itself to psyche of `English Medium Private School’ concept. Even from lowest strata of society, the parents who want to educate their children will send them to English Medium Private school and not government schools. Such mentality of middle and lower middle class in Karnataka may hurt AAP vote hunt in the State.
Onset, political atmosphere in Punjab and Karnataka looks similar. Looks can be deceptive and so it is going to be. In Punjab, Akali Dal failed due to family hold of Badals on the party, which also tried to hobnob with Dera Sacha Sauda to woo Dalit votes. Besides, Badal had failed to punish the perpetrators who desecrated Guru Granth Sahib and failure to control the drug mafia spelt doom for Akali Dal.

As far as BJP is concerned, its Hindu Nationalism had no takers in Sikh dominated Punjab. During the last elections, AAP managed to capitalize on Bhagat Singh legacy much better than BJP could.

But Karnataka is a different ball game altogether. There are four to five zonal polling patterns in Karnataka, with multiple issues influencing each zone. Money plays a dominant role in winning the elections and average election cost of Assembly constituency is said to be around Rs 10 crore. There is deep caste division and intervention of religious leaders that influences voting patterns. The former bureaucrats have hardly penetrated this ecosystem.

In zonal voting patterns, Bengaluru itself accounts for over 10 per cent of the State’s 224 Assembly segments. Barring four minority dominated constituencies – Sarvajna Nagar, Shivajinagar, Chamarajpet and Shanthinagar, rest 24 constituencies are open for BJP. More than half of Bengaluru constituencies are BJP dominated.

Then comes Vokkaliga dominated eight districts in Old Mysuru region, where JD(S) has direct fight with Congress. More than political ideology, it looks like feudalistic battles that are carried from generation to generation. There is also caste rift between Backwards, Dalits and others, which decide final polarization of votes. BJP, though wins majority of Parliament seats in the region, has only managed to make some inroads in some stray constituencies. It is still struggling to get a firm foothold in the region and a new political outfit like AAP has a tough task before making its presence felt.
Then comes coastal and Malnad region, which are Hindutwa hotbeds. The division between Hindus and Muslims are so sharp that no one is willing to listen. The issues range from Love Jihad to business rivalry and everything takes a political color. Only BJP and Congress fight out in this region.

The situation in Mumbai-Karnataka is no different. Lingayat dominated region also has upper/lower caste rifts, that leaves some space for Congress to put up a fight. However, it never allows Vokkaliga dominated party JD(S) to flourish at all, as Lingayats and Vokkaligas don’t stand each other.

But the situation in Hyderabad-Karnataka is entirely different. Though this region is also Lingayat dominated, the six-eight districts were under Hyderabad Nizam rule for long time. Since the region witnessed lot of cultural and spiritual movements during the last six hundred years, Sufi-Lingayat coexistence was at its best. There were other movements also, which gave rise to a number of multi-faith rituals. BJP found it hard to break this region for a long time. However, they are managing to break in some sporadic constituencies.

Need of the hour for Kejriwal is to find some people who can understand intricacies of Karnataka politics and start working out a strategy to reach out people in nook and corner of the State. Both BJP and Congress are experts in using media and social media to their advantage and have mastered the art of reaching out to people, without even delivering anything. AAP has nothing to really fall back on and prove to the people that they are any superior. So much of political verbal wars are in the air, a common man will hardly notice some more addition. Even if Kejriwal is planning to set a platform for 2024 general elections to Parliament and then to 2027 general elections to Karnataka, he needs better people and a different approach for Karnataka.

– By Vinay Madhav. Vinay Madhav is a seasoned writer who has had a long standing career with various top publications.