Karnataka elections: Anti-incumbency sentiment downs BJP | Sunday Observer

Karnataka elections: Anti-incumbency sentiment downs BJP

21 May, 2023

The Congress has gatecrashed into power in the South Indian State of Karnataka after being written off by the pundits and the media as being no match for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) armed as the latter is with the powerful Hindutva ideology and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s undoubted charisma.

In the Karnataka State Assembly elections held on May 10, the Congress emerged as the clear winner romping home with 135 seats in the House of 224, 55 more seats than it got in the last elections held in 2018. The BJP, on the other hand, got 66 seats (38 less than in 2018). The Janata Dal (Secular) got 19 (18 seats less than its 2018 tally).

In terms of the vote share, the Congress got 42.8% (4.7% more than in 2018); the BJP got 36% (same as the last time) and JD (Secular) got 13% (5 percent less than before).

While the Congress gained in voter acceptability, the BJP can draw comfort from the fact that it has not lost its vote base. In other words, its constituency is intact. The Congress has gained the votes which had gone to the JD (S) in 2018. In other words, the election saw the simultaneous consolidation of both the “Secular” and “Hindutva” votes. The Congress and the JD (S) are both “secular” parties.

The BJP’s debacle belies the notion that the charisma of its leader Narendra Modi will see it through, however unfavorable the political climate may be. It is also a dampener for the party’s ambition to spread its wings across the South Indian States, where it is still seen as a North Indian party based on the credo to unify India on the basis of one religion and one language (“Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan”).

Karnataka was the only Southern State in which the BJP had won an election and run a Government. It was meant to be a springboard to Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. After the drubbing in Karnataka, such a prospect seems distant.

The defeat also calls into question the BJP’s assertion that it is guaranteed to win the 2024 Parliamentary Elections. According to former BJP leader, Finance and Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha, the coming State elections and even the 2024 Parliamentary Elections, will be fought on local bread and butter issues and the BJP’s aggressive Hindu nationalism with all its manifestations will take a backseat. “Hindutva has run its course,” Sinha told ‘The Wire’.

BJP supporters explain their defeat saying that it was the routine anti-incumbency factor at work and insist that the same factor will lead to a Congress debacle in the next elections. They cite the fielding of bad candidates as the other reason. The incumbency factor was indeed very strong as the BJP Government in the State had become a byword for corruption. In fact, Government contractors had publicly described it as the “40% Raj”.

Hubris, born of an over-estimation of the power of Hindutva and the Modi magic, had affected its performance on the administrative front. Former Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram told ‘India Today’ that while Karnataka’s Per Capita Income was high it was a “middling” State in terms of social indices, indicating a failure to deliver on election promises to the common man.

The other major take away is undeniably the failure of BJP’s Usual Selling Proposition (Hindutva combined with Modi’s charisma). Even extravagant road shows by crowd-puller Prime Minister Modi in the crucial last days of the campaign failed to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. In other words, the silver bullet – Hindutva with a marked anti-Muslim and anti-Christian ingredient – proved to be a dud. The party relied so much on the efficacy of undiluted Hindutva, that it did not field a single Muslim or Christian candidate.

The BJPs gross miscalculation was evident in the Bajrang Dal-Hanuman episode. In a pathetic bid to exploit the Congress’ promise to ban the extremist Hindu outfit Bajrang Dal, the BJP equated the rejection of Bajrang Dal with a rejection of Lord Hanuman himself (Bajrang Bali is another name for Hanuman). The media went to town saying that the Hindu majority was “very angry” with the Congress for its “blasphemous” proposition to ban the Bajrang Dal. Huge images of Hanuman together with Modi were paraded by BJP supporters. But the Hindu voters refused to equate the violent Bajrang Dal with Lord Hanuman who is worshipped for his humility and sacrifice besides physical strength.

Southern Dream

Having got a foothold in South India in Karnataka following the 2018 elections, the BJP was keen on expanding its reach in the South. But the South and the North are two different kettles of fish.

In contrast to the Northern States, the Southern States have a different history of communal relations. The Muslims are not hated in the South because the South did not experience partition along Hindu-Muslim lines (India-Pakistan Partition in 1947). The South was not a victim of Islamic iconoclasm either.

Unlike the North, the South has had strong social justice and equalitarian movements, including a rationalist/expressly secular social equalitarian Dravida or Periyarist movement in Tamil Nadu (TN). Naturally the landscape in the South is inhospitable to the anti-Muslim and anti-Christian Hindutva.

Nevertheless, the BJP has been trying to stoke communal feelings in Telangana and Kerala. In Hyderabad, it threatened the iconic Charminar Gateway constructed by the erstwhile Muslim rulers, by promoting an adjacent Hindu shrine for Bhagyalakshmi which had come up only in the 1960s.

In Kerala, the BJP is using a feature film “The Kerala Story” based on an allegedly “large-scale” enticement of Kerala girls for the Islamic terror outfit ISIS to sow hatred against the Muslims. But this has fallen flat as expected.

The BJP is trying to enter TN by attacking the secular, anti-caste “Dravida” movement. It is trying to portray the “Dravida” concept as divisive, separatist and anti-national, thus de-legitimizing the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) Government.

Long Way To Go

Tamil Nadu Governor R.N. Ravi (an appointee of the BJP government at the Centre) is questioning the legitimacy of the DMK’s “Dravidian model of governance”. Ravi has publicly stated that “there is nothing like the Dravidian model.” He has even criticized the naming of the State as “Tamil Nadu” because the term “Nadu”, in his view, implies a separate country. He proposes the term “Tamil Aham” instead.

Electorally, the BJP has a long way to go in the South. In Kerala, it has no legislator. In TN, the BJP won four seats in the 2021 elections in alliance with the AIADMK. In Telangana, the BJP made inroads by winning five seats in the Assembly in 2014, but in the 2018 elections the number fell to one. However, in the 2019 Parliamentary Elections, the BJP improved its tally bagging four out of 17 seats.

In Andhra Pradesh, in the 2019 elections, the BJP could not open its account. Its bid to portray Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy as an ‘anti- Hindu’ Christian failed.

Operation Lotus

What the Karnataka Congress should watch out for now, is the possibility of a split in its ranks following the denial of the Chief Ministership to the State party boss and competent organizer D.K. Shivakumar (61). The Party High Command has preferred Siddaramaiah (75) the more senior leader with State-wide appeal. But it took nearly four days to convince Shivakumar to take the Deputy CM’s post for the present.

If the current Sidharamaiah-Shivakumar truce comes unstuck, the BJP, backed by humongous money power, could do what it did in 2018 – launch “Operation Lotus” to engineer defections and capture power.