State Politics in Karnataka, India, has its own dynamics and historical legacies which shape the nature of political party competitions. Since the 1990s, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has dramatically increased the number of seats at the Legislative Assembly, Karnataka, so that State powers have been severely struggled among three political parties; Indian National Congress (INC), Janata Dal (Secular), and BJP. This paper envisages major characteristics of Karnataka State Politics by searching for the historical traits and trajectories on political power of Dominant Castes in 1970s, on political rivalry between two Dominant Castes (Lingayat and Vokkaliga) over the Reservation system of OBCs (Other Backward Classes), and on the institutional reforms of local self- governments and the introduction of Panchayat Elections in 1980s.
Previous studies have argued that one of the important features of Karnataka politics is strong influence of Dominant Castes, which have more political representation in the Legislative Assembly than their ratio of population. The tendencies of over-representation had continued until mid-1970s, when Devaraj Urs became chief minister with strong political support of Indira Gandhi. Urs had succeeded in constructing vote banks of non-Dominant Castes at local self-governments by appointing his followers as local officials. Secondly, the ambivalent relationships between Lingayat and Vokkaliga have been one of the major determinants of Karnataka State politics. These two castes have repeatedly demanded their own quota status in OBCs reservation system such as entrance examinations of higher educations and civil service exams, and then the differences of political interests between the two have indispensably become wider, which result in the collapse of political alliances in 1990s. The third characteristic is the devolution of power from State to local bodies and the reform of local bodies as democratic self-governments by the introduction of Panchayat elections since 1980s.
These historical traits can be found in recent party politics of Karnataka, especially in the period of Yeddyurappa chief minister (BJP), who has achieved a big leap in the Legislative Assembly seats. Yeddyurappa has been keen on expansion of patron-client relations by means of OBCs reservation systems, which are mainly targeting BJP’s support base castes (Lingayat), and by the effective use of Panchayats as power bases. This paper argues that Yeddyurappa’s political endeavors formulated by the historical characteristics of Karnataka State politics, however, lead him to suspicions of briberies.