Karnataka voters’ message: You take us for granted at your own peril

There was a feeling that the overarching national figures – Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah – with their ephemeral “magic wand” would swing elections the BJP’s way

BJP lost significant vote share in traditionally strong areas such as Kittur, Kalyana Central, and even Coastal Karnataka. Representational pic

Now that the results of the Karnataka elections are out and the Congress has won comprehensively, it looks natural that it should have performed this well. Yet, looking back over the last few weeks, it was difficult to predict with any great conviction that the state would see such a clear-cut victory for the Congress and an equally vicious defeat for the BJP.

An air of despondency seemed to have gripped the mood as talk of a hung assembly was in the air.

And, everyone knew what would be the fate if there was no clear mandate for the Congress, even if it managed to win the largest number of seats. It would surely be a repeat of 2019, when the Congress-JD(S) coalition was broken, and the BJP managed to form government.

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The other imponderable was H D Kumaraswamy of the JD(S).  He seemed to be sitting pretty as a hung Assembly would mean he would demand his due (and get it) irrespective of whether it was the Congress or the BJP.

There were some who were obsessed with the fear, thankfully irrational, that electronic voting machines would be somehow doctored to enable a BJP victory. The fact that until now none has ever proved that it can be rigged on a mass scale did not seem to convince them.

And, the oft-repeated theories of how certain communities or castes favoured some parties proved that the imponderables were simply too many for a clear result to emerge. For example,  it was a given that the dominant Lingayat community in north Karnataka would vote for the BJP, that the dominant Vokkaligas in the south would go for the JD (S).

But the statistics of elections in the recent past also showed that the electorate was fractured, meaning that some Lingayats would vote for the Congress as well while all Vokkaligas too would not vote en masse for the JD(S). The Muslim community too had, for the last three decades since the demolition of the Babri Masjid, had split between the Congress and the JD(S).

Moreover, in the last two decades, except for 2013, no party on its own had gone past the half-way Assembly mark of 113.

Also read: Karnataka election: BJP’s defeat signals failure of Modi-Shah‘s double engine pitch

The BJP, to complicate matters, embarked on a mission of polarising voters on religious lines. A series of decisions were implemented starting with the compulsory wearing of hijab in some schools and intermediate colleges,  the protest against the Islamic way of slaughtering goat and sheep (or, the halal method), the eviction of Muslim traders in fairs linked to Hindu festivals, the moves to target interfaith marriages (calling it love jihad) and stall religious conversions.

Probably, these were engineered by the party’s Hindutva ideologues who calculated this would pay electoral dividends along the lines of what appears to have happened in Uttar Pradesh. Polarising communities on religious lines, if it succeeded, would mean that the larger Hindu identity would subsume caste and community feelings.

The upshot would be a vote for the BJP that is avowedly pro-Hindutva and the minority votes would then not matter. While this factor compounded the already divided loyalties among the electorate, it made predictions that much more tenuous.

The ground realities that affected people irrespective of which caste, community or religion they belonged to were visible but its intensity underestimated. The alleged “commission of the 40 per cent” kind, price rise, a stagnant economy etc. were normalised on the grounds that these are anyway par for the course everywhere.

Also read: Increasing Lingayat reservations backfires for BJP; Congress wins 60 seats in N Karnataka region

To make matters worse, the Bommai government did not seem unduly concerned about development though it made promises. On top of it, the party was riddled with factionalism. There were those that had defected from the Congress-JD(S) coalition in 2019, another section comprising a powerful RSS section backed by the BJP’s national organising secretary B L Santosh whose feud with the older guard including B S Yediyurappa is well-known. Third, sections that did not belong to this faction.

Despite these debilitating factors, few predicted that the BJP would pay a heavy price. There was a feeling that the overarching national figures – Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah – with their ephemeral “magic wand” would swing elections the BJP’s way. Forget the BJP, even those not in the party in the last nine years have come to believe in this theory – another reason for not pointing out the obvious, which is that these are just part of the media-created hype attributed to the duo.

The last minute campaigning, for which Modi and Shah are spoken of in awe by their supporters, increased the hesitation by many to call out the results before voting had happened.

In the pre-Modi, Shah era, it was simpler to undertake a prognosis of what turn an election would take. But the emergence of a large section of media outlets that openly and raucously backs the BJP,  irrespective of what the ground situation is, has tended to add to the confusion as to what the reality is.

The BJP’s diversionary tactics as seen in the attempt to communalise the Congress’s proposal to act against the Bajrang Dal and comments by its top leaders like Mallikarjun Kharge made matters worse for anyone trying to figure out the outcome of the election.

Also read: Karnataka polls: People won, hate and crony capitalism lost, says Rahul

Yet, as the results have shown, there appears to have been no confusion in the minds of voters. Sweeping aside any doubts, people have voted clearly for a stable government. The Congress is the beneficiary. Initial reports indicate that North Karnataka has largely voted against the BJP, so too the Malnad region and south Karnataka.

If the minority communities seem to have combined to give a consolidated vote for the Congress, so too have the majority Hindus, else such a clear result would not have been possible.

The conclusion is obvious. The Karnataka voter does not prefer polarisation on religious lines and a party which is accused of encouraging corruption. More importantly, any party that digresses from development issues, does not address issues like price rise and employment and indulges in internal feuding will be shown the door.

Also read: Congress victory in Karnataka shows Modi is not invincible: Opposition leaders