There is only one Independent member among the 222 elected to Karnataka’s legislative assembly in last month’s assembly polls. This is the lowest since the state was formed over six decades ago.

Karnataka had nine independent members in the 2013 assembly. All of them lost their seats this time — eight to the three leading political parties and one to another Independent.

The fall in seat share is also reflected in vote share. The combined vote share of all 1,129 Independent candidates is 3.9%, the lowest ever recorded and half of the vote-share of Independent candidates in the previous election, analysis of data from the Election Commission of India (ECI) reveals.

The state’s third assembly elected in 1967 had the highest number of Independent legislators, 41. There were only 331 Independent candidates in fray and they together received over 28% of the votes polled. Over the years, the number of Independent candidates increased while their vote-share and the number of winners decreased.

To be sure, Karnataka is not alone when it comes to declining space for Independent candidates. With political parties dominating the national and state elections, political space for the Independent candidates seems to the decreasing across the country, both in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies.

Eleven of the present state assemblies have the lowest seat-share of Independent candidates they ever had, while elections to 22 of the present state assemblies recorded the lowest-ever vote share of Independent candidates.

The present Lok Sabha has only three independent parliamentarians. It is the second lowest number ever elected to the house. The lowest number was one in the house elected in 1991.

The number has been fluctuating since then but has largely remained much lower compared to the elections to the house held before 1991. The highest number of Independent candidates elected to the lower house was 42 in the country’s second Lok Sabha elected in 1957.

Election to it also recorded the highest vote-share of Independent candidates, 19.3%.

“Your chances of getting elected is almost nil if you contest as an Independent,” said Jagdeep Chhokar, founder of the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), an election watchdog group. Chhokar said it was because of the large gap between the resources that an Independent candidate and the political parties can put into elections that the number of Independent candidates contesting and getting elected has been going down, increasing the hold of political parties on the political system.

“On a technical issue, for candidates there’s a limit on how much they can spend (on elections) although all of them violate the limit and they lie in the election expenditure affidavits … but there’s officially or legally no limit on the expenditure a political party can make on an election,” he said. “So the dice is very heavily weighted against Independent candidates and in favour of candidates put up by political parties,” Chhokar said, who sees democratisation of political parties as a way out.

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