Battleground States: Karnataka

Election history, phase-wise details, key seats: All you need to know about this crucial state

Elections 2024
15 May, 2024

Karnataka has been a key battleground in general elections over the past three decades, with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress, as well as the Janata Dal (Secular), founded by the former prime minister HD Devegowda, struggling for supremacy. The state, which voted in the second and third phases of the 2024 general election, holds great symbolic importance for the two national parties. Mallikarjun Kharge, the Congress president, and the BJP’s general secretary for organisation, BL Santhosh—the key intermediary between the party and its ideological mothership, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh—are both Kannadigas.

Both parties have improved their average vote share in each of the last three general elections, squeezing out the JD(S) to set up a head-to-head contest in most parts of Karnataka. After clinging to power for most of a decade through a series of opportunistic alliances, Devegowda’s party, which currently has a single member of parliament, has once again joined hands with the BJP, which holds 25 of the 28 seats. A significant reversal in the state, such as the one that the two parties suffered while contesting separately in last year’s assembly election, could endanger Narendra Modi’s Lok Sabha majority. The 2023 defeat was, in part, the consequence of deep factional fissures that have weakened the BJP as it faces a Congress government, under Siddaramaiah and his deputy, DK Shivakumar, that is still enjoying a honeymoon period.

The Congress’s current popularity is, in large part, the result of the government’s delivery, despite some growing pains, of its five key campaign pledges: five kilograms a rice per month for families below the poverty line, free bus travel for women, 200 units of free electricity to all households, Rs 2,000 a month for women heads of households and monthly allowances for unemployed graduates. The Congress claims that over four hundred thousand people have directly benefited from the schemes—women reportedly used more than a billion free bus rides in the first six months of the Siddaramaiah government. In a state where a majority of the electorate cited either unemployment or poverty as their primary issue, according to a 2023 survey by the Kannada portal Eedina, welfarism remains key to the Congress making gains in 2024.

Conscious of the impact of these schemes, the BJP has criticised them as fiscally imprudent, given the state’s considerable budget deficit, even as it promises similar schemes itself. This has brought to the fore issues of fiscal federalism, with civil-society groups pointing out that, despite being the second-largest contributor of tax revenue, Karnataka’s share of the divisible pool has shrunk to 3.64 percent under the Fifteenth Finance Commission. For every rupee the state pays in taxes, it receives forty paise in central allocations. In all, the Siddaramaiah government claims that the state exchequer has lost Rs 1.88 trillion in revenue since 2017 thanks to changes in devolution policies.