Person of the Week: The Karnataka Voter


Person of the Week: The Karnataka Voter

Illustration: Akshita Monga

For India’s teeming masses of haves and have-nots, this was a week of highs and lows. The haves enjoyed the highs, as Bollywood starlets found marital bliss and industrialists’ offspring got engaged. Meanwhile, the have-nots endured the lows, as a dust storm straight out of a Roland Emmerich film ran unchecked through thirteen states in North India, much like the BJP circa 2014. But this apocalyptic event was a mere precursor to an even more violent tempest, which is scheduled to arrive on May 12 – the Karnataka state elections.

As a character proclaims in that other Tempest (The), “Our revels now are ended.” It’s showtime tomorrow and absolutely no one – including the Kannadigas – has a friggin’ clue as to what to expect.

Which brings us to the Person of the Week. It isn’t one of the politicians scrambling to secure a seat in what is going to go down as one of the most hotly contested elections of the past four years. Neither is it anyone from the Election Commission, who face the unenviable task of stamping out any funny business that might interfere with democratic process (EC officials reminds me of long-suffering dentists who ask their patients to stay away from candy, to no avail). No, the Person of the Week is, quite simply, the Karnataka voter.

The Karnataka voter is a little like the cutesy creature in this New Yorker cartoon, who proclaims: “Now that we’ve fallen in love, I have a confession. I am not a giraffe – I am fifty-eight weasels in a trenchcoat.” The state’s politics and voting patterns are so diverse, so wrapped up in their own design, that they put the solution to the Rubik’s cube to shame. For starters, the state’s demographics are split along geographic, ethnic, linguistic, and Lingayat lines (sorry, not sorry).

This heterogenous, polytheistic make-up of Karnataka’s population makes it an entirely different challenge for the BJP, that is used to winning elections in the homogenised states of the Hindi belt. And it’s been fairly evident in the way that they have handled the campaigning in the state: It’s like asking a one-note actor like Salman Khan to re-enact Citizen Kane. The Congress, meanwhile – despite the strong challenge posed by the existence of Rahul Gandhi – will have to overcome anti-incumbency, in a state that has not voted in a government for successive terms since Ramakrishna Hegde in 1980. Their task is that of a waiter convincing customers to repeat their order even when the service has been terrible.

For posing political parties a conundrum even harder than guessing what a hangry girlfriend wants to Zomato, the multi-faceted, many-faced Karnataka voter walks away with the title of the Person of the Week. Grab a voter ID card from the apartment of your nearest politician and hold your breath, because at this party, the assembly might be hung.

The truth is everyone is floundering – the Congress, the BJP, and even the media.

If the country were a pot full of biryani right now, Karnataka would be the leg piece. And the voters the ones who decide who gets this juiciest of morsels. Sorry, I meant the aloo in the pulao, because even staunch vegetarians like Adityanath, Amit Shah, and Narendra Modi have left their seats of power in the north to hit the campaign trail here. The Karnataka voters’ siren song is so irresistible that these heroes of the Hindi heartland have resorted to bringing along a translator to their rallies, even when it leads to embarrassment, as Amit Shah learned.

The voters have also enjoyed being wooed by the incumbent Congress in the state. In order to win them over to his side, Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah has morphed into a social media maven. In the run-up to the election, we got to see him throwing shade at Uttar Pradesh CM Adityanath on Twitter as if they were Kanye West and Taylor Swift.

But the truth is everyone is floundering – the Congress, the BJP, and even the media. As Priya Ramani writes in this lively column titled, “The Wild and Wonderful World of Karnataka Elections,” the voter in Karnataka, where state pride often trumps national pride, is famously difficult to understand. “Kannada pride clashed with the BJP’s idea of India over the renaming of Indiranagar’s trendy 100-feet road. The idea to rename the road after Dr S K Karim Khan had been around for years. The BJP lobbied to name this road after former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The issue came to a head last year when pro-Kannada organisations protested. They said they would rename the road after Khan themselves if the government didn’t. Kannada pride in its well-respected freedom fighter and folklorist won over the Hindu vs Muslim option. Case closed.”

She cites another example of the BJP Karnataka Twitter handle using #JihadiMuktaKarnataka as its state election campaign idea. “You can safely deduce that a Kannadiga didn’t come up with this hashtag. Here everyone knows the radicalised coastal belt is only one part of this state. But who will tell this to the national leaders whose only idea of identity is linked to religion.”

At this point, all that we really know is that the experts say the election is going to be a close one. That’s an understatement, considering how batshit crazy some of this has ben. As we saw in the last leg of campaigning when thousands of fake voter IDs were recovered from an apartment, like teachers cracking down on a paper leak before an especially gnarly examination.

It’s been as entertaining as anything that this season of the IPL has had to offer, despite the Royal Challengers Bangalore sucking at Chinnaswamy Stadium.

However, fame is fleeting, and until tomorrow, the Karnataka voters’ popularity with the body politic is going to be at an all-time high. Given the significant impact this election will have on subsequent ones in Mizoram, Rajasthan, and especially the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, I suggest the Karnataka voters make hay while the sun shines. You’re the men and women of the moment, so have a great weekend.

Because it’ll be five years before anyone gives you the opportunity to feel important again.