BJP’s southward journey has been checkmated by people of Karnataka who rejected the party’s plank of Hindutva and gave preference to the local issues; thereby paving way for a landslide victory of Congress.
Analysts opine that a big takeaway for BJP is that the outcome of Karnataka polls has established that BJP chief ministers will have to perform otherwise voters will punish the party and it can no longer depend on the ‘charisma’.
Challenges for Congress
Experts are of the opinion that none can snatch credit of Congress victory in Karnataka but it will be an uphill task to defeat Modi led BJP - “DILLI ABHI DUR HAI. At the same time, Congress may implement Karnataka Model in states like Rajasthan, Chatisgahrh, Madhya Pradesh, Telengana and Mizorum which go to polls this year.
Second, party cadres and leaders contribute a lot to the success of any party, and Karnataka’s historical win can act as morale booster, besides creating demoralising effect on BJP.
Like BJP, it is also a fact that Congress led governments will also face anti-incumbency factor and BJP has got strong foothold in Hindi belt hence new strategy may be required to overcome this hurdle.
Third, Rahul brand of precedence of ‘Love over Hatred’, a main ingredient of Bharat Jodo Yatra, is likely to become part of election campaign in 2024, and in state assemblies elections which is evident from the praise being showered on him by senior party leaders. Rahul had ensured to give an impression of unity amongst state leaders during Yatra which will become focal point in other states also. Rahul had focused on local issues like unemployment, price rise, atrocities and welfare of the women. BJP’s constant efforts to put these issues under carpet etc. which formed the core elements of manifesto. Karnataka victory will brighten the chance of Rahul Gandhi to negotiate from the position of strength which had been missing owing to regular losses in states and central elections.
Fourth, Kharge factor did play its role in shifting the Dalit votes to Congress which will enter in electoral arena in five states with vigour and optimism as Modi’s Charisma did not work in Himachal and now in Karnataka which makes regional straps (chief ministers or state leaders) relevant to success. Congress may take advantage of Kharge factor to garner the support of Dalits in assemblies’ polls.
Fifth, Modi brand was built on key element of anti-corruption which was lost in the din in Karnataka polls as Bomai government was accused of a large scale corruption and nicknames as “government of 40% commission”. In this way, BJP leaders refrained from talking about corruption and Congress pounced upon this issue and even printed a list of rates of postings of officials which ran in crores.
Chances of opposition unity
Observers feel that Congress needs to adopt flexible attitude, and the efforts initiated by Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar may be accelerated with the addition of senior leader like Sharad Pawar who has been able to save his party from BJP in Maharashtra after dramatic offer of retirement from politics. Now there are chances that PM aspirants like Mamta Banerjee, Arvind Kejriwal etc. may fall in line and refrain from attacking Congress though BJP happens to be the common enemy on political front .
Hindutva in Karnataka
BJP may bank upon the contention that Modi has got ‘charisma’ to save the sinking ship of any party chief minister who has been a total failure. But it has been proved wrong in Himachal and Karnataka. BJP had jumped over the issue of intermixing, and blatantly misinterpreting the Congress party’s resolve to ban Bajrang Dal and PFI if it came to power. The mood was upbeat as BJP started believing that Bajrang Bali will bail out non performing Bomai government and people’s problems as well as frustration will be forgotten, but all in vain. Even PM’s speeches veered around the Hindutava as he accused Congress of showing disrespect to Bajrang Bali (Hanuman)w hose worship may be banned. Now Congress workers in Karnataka are saying “Bajrangbali BJP ke nahi Congress ke sath hain… Bajrang Bali ne BJP par fine lagaya hai (Lord Bajrangbali is with the Congress and he has levied a fine on the BJP. The issue was related to faith hence the deity had figured in speeches, rallies, roadshows and more. People of Karnataka worship Bajrang Bali as Anjanadri Hills in this state is considered the birthplace of Lord Hanuman.
Mutts played huge role
Irked by humiliation inflicted on former chief minister B.S.Yedirappa which preceded his removal from the post of CM, Lingayat community shifted the loyalty which is reflected in the BJP’s loss of 27 assembly seats and subsequent gain of 28 seats by Congress. As per data, Ligayats constitute 17 percent which makes them as dominating bloc which should be an eye opener to RSS and saffron party. Thousands of Mutts of different communities especially 1100 belonging to Lingayat community acted as ‘spoliator’ and affected outcome of the elections in a most dramatic manner.
Due to fear of losing Lingayat votes, BJP leaders and prime minister, Narender Modi had tried to assuage the hurt feelings of Yediyurappa who was described as star campaigner but refrained from declaring him as CM candidate which could have proved as game changer in Karnataka polls. While encouraging younger leadership BJP had sidelined Yediyurappa, removed him from the post of chief minister in 2018 which backfired. According to data, Karnataka had got approximately 5350 Lingayat Mutts at the time of independence but 4000 of these religious institutions have been closed due to financial constraints, but one thousand one hundred still function in the state. But Yedirappa had done a lot for these Mutts when he was chief minister hence he has got an influence over them. Experts say that there might have been silent dictate from chiefs of these Mutts which changed dynamics of the politics. Mutts are not only religious bodies but they run educational institutions and provide free food to all sections of the society which made them relevant to political scenario. But BJP failed to reap the fruit like in the past. Experts say that BJP’s decision to deny tickets to Jagadish Shettar, deputy CM Laxman Savadi, cost it heavily as they left the party and joined Congress.
Through social engineering
In the hope of creating pro Hindu sentiment, BJP-Bomai government scrapped 4% Muslims quota which was moved to weaker section (EWS) category and they were left to compete with Brahmins, Mudaliyars, Jains, Vysyas and others. Analysts say that the Bomai government had raised the quota for SCs from 15 % to 17 %, and STs from 5 percent to 7 percent in October,2022 to improve its chances on the basis of the social engineering formula, but it did not work. Then, another attempt was made when it withdrew the 4 % Muslim quota and it would be shared between the powerful Lingayat and Vokkaliga communities which until now enjoyed five percent and four percent sub quotas respectively within the OBC segment. But such tactics also backfired as it helped in polrisation of Muslims who en masse voted for Congress candidates.
Lingayat and Congress
It is the Yeddyurappa phenomenon which brought sea change in the entire caste structure in Karnataka and it benefited BJP in a big way. Rajeev Gandhi’s humiliating and ruthless action of dismissal of Veerendra Patil government proved disastrous for Congress which was reduced to 36 seats from 179 seats in 1994 as the Lingayat community moved away from the party. BJP increased its vote percentage from 4% to 16 % which was primarily due to Lingayat community. Yeddyurappa had formed his own party Karnataka Janata Party (KJP) and damaged BJP in several constituencies in 2013 as vote got split which enabled BJP to win 40 seats as compared to 110 in 2008. BJP share dipped to 33.86 % to 19.95 %. Now BJP might value importance of Yeddyurappa who may become relevant for next five years as shifting of Lingayat votes to Congress has bitterly hurt the saffron party in Karnataka polls.
In the final assessment, BJP’s habit of contesting every election with ferocity and killing spirt can not be underestimated though Congress can position itself for ensuing assembly and 2024 elections with renewed energy and enthusiasm. BJP had won104 seats in 2018 with 36.35% of vote share which has dropped marginally to 36 % whereas Congress party’s vote share was 38.61 but won 78 seats only.
(Writer, a senior journalist and a political analyst, is based in Shimla)
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.