For those unfamiliar with Karnataka politics, there are 3 major players: Indian National Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party and Janata Dal-Secular. This is a rare state where: Congress still has strong local leadership with grassroots connections, while BJP doesn’t have that many mass leaders and a local party is still strong enough to hold its own against the two. This is a state with low party loyalty and defections being a common occurrence. This is also a rare South Indian state where caste politics is a major factor, equivalent to many North Indian States if not more. As a result of which the state has recently thrown hung assemblies in the local elections, leading to unstable governments and what many term as “resort politics”. So let’s look at the takeaways from the results.
1. (Un)Stable Government!
This election was unique in the recent historical context as Congress not only gained majority, but also its performance was the best in the history of the state. Congress got around 43 per cent votes which is significant considering the three way fight. In the past 5 elections of state it has given simple majority only once, that it to congress in 2013. No Chief Minister has completed his term since late twentieth century, barring Siddarammaiah’s stint as CM of five years from 2013 to 2018.
Karnataka has been tough door to break for BJP as it has never been able to achieve full majority on its own, despite all its efforts. It came close in 2018 elections, where there was huge anti-incumbency against the congress but fell short to gain majority. BJP this time managed to win just around 66 seats, with 36% vote share. It has lost around 1% to vote share compared to last election.
2. BJP breached old Mysuru but it was advantage Congress
Old Mysuru region of Karnataka has been strong fortress for the local JDS party, with strong consolidation of Vokkaliga vote consolidation. It is from this region the supremo of JDS, Devegowda won in 1996 general election, and went on to become the Prime Minister of India, although for a short stint of around 13 months.
BJP has been eyeing this region for a while, recognising the fact that their presence is so weak that they wouldn’t even have worker to put up a flag in these areas. Their attempt started with fielding and supporting Mrs Sumalatha Ambareesh in Mandya, wife of the late actor Ambareesh, a congress leader who hasd strong support base in these region, when she was denied ticket in 2019 general election.
Continuing with its attempt and trying to build on the success of Sumalatha Ambareesh victory, BJP was put much emphasis on winning at least some seats in assembly elections. For this the central leadership gave much prominence in campaigning in this region, from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Home Minister Amit shah, most of the top leaders visited and constantly attacked the JDS party on it being family run party in this region. But as a saying goes in Kannada, the fight between the two resulted in an advantage for the third, the votes of JDS were breached but it was the Congress which was the primary beneficiary. BJP made just enough dent in JDS votes to give advantage to the Congress. Although the result is bitter to BJP, it can be content that its votes have grown to such a size that if continued it might be able to be significant player in the region.
3. Local elections – Vocal for local!
Congress from the initial stage of the campaign, was very conscious to keep the narrative as local as possible. All the issues it took up were local, be it Nandini vs Amul issue, 40 per cent commission issue or the manifesto promises it made. Congress for their credit recognised the fact its advantage lies in local politics and leaders. Unlike in any parts of India today congress still has strong leadership with grass root presence in the state. It is pertinent to remember that Karnataka historically has been bastion of Congress. Right after the emergency, when Congress was looking for a safe seat for Indira Gandhi, Chikmagaluru was suggested. Even recently the former president of Congress, Sonia Gandhi, was elected from Bellary in Karnataka.
BJP for its part was unable to develop strong leaders with grass root connect. Especially after Yediyurappa, there has been a vacuum for regional mass leaders who can pull the crowds. Last time when Yediyurappa resigned as Chief Minister, BJP instead of going for any fresh young face to develop played it safe by selecting Bommai for the post, due to restriction in options and pressure of community leaders. Bommai who is a son of former CM of Karnataka for all his strengths isn’t a mass leader, who can barely win his own seat. His leadership didn’t inspire any confidence in the people or the workers and could barely said to be in control of his cabinet. Recognising this fact, BJP unsuccessfully tried to go into the election with national issues and leaders. This brings us to the next point.
4. State development and Hindutva
BJP came to power after bringing down the ill-conceived coalition Government through defections. Most of its term was drowned in the coronavirus pandemic and its recovery. Inspite of this neither Yediyurappa nor Bommai were able to get the ground going with novel development projects or schemes. As a result of that in the election phase it not only struck with narrative of highlighting Union Government scheme implementation but maintained absolute silence regarding State Government achievements. Granted that Mysuru-Bengaluru highway, Vande Bharat express and many other schemes were delivered without charges of corruption and much ahead of their scheduled completion. But these were the achievements of Union Government. Indian voters for their part are starting to properly distinguish between state and national issues. BJP constantly talking only about Union Government schemes didn’t get much traction among the local voters.
Meaning of Hindutva has been taken in the narrow sense of religious and cultural identity by many. But a proper study reveals that it is development and growth of our motherland along the direction which our ancestors have shown. BJP Karnataka not only failed in development but also failed in taking a firm stand on contentious issues such as hijab, Azaan and killing of BJP workers. This not only depressed the cadres but didn’t inspire confidence in a Hindu voter in general.
5. Change in guard and fresh faces
This was a generational shift election for BJP which tried to shuffle its candidates. It tried to make a generational shift from old guard by giving tickets to many new fresh candidates who have worked for the party. Many of the senior leader’s faces were missing in the list like Jagadish Shettar, Lakshman Savadi, Yediyurappa etc. many of whom chose to defect to other party, abandoning their ideology. It had its repercussions, which BJP had to bear.
Although it hurts in the short term, in the long term it will have its positive impact. First, it gives assurance to the cadres that there is always opportunity in the party unlike many others where only families and dynasty is given preference. It also gives chance to the party to scout for any hidden gems within the cadre who have shown greater potential. People like Narendra Modi, Vajpayee grew to great heights from being a small booth workers through their hard work. This can be considered a sole positive for BJP in this election.