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

The Congress win in Karnataka can be attributed to several factors: the emergence of Siddaramaiah as a key player, corruption cases against the BJP government, the Panchamasali issue, the Bharat Jodo Yatra by Rahul Gandhi, and the failure in governance

Karnataka-Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar
Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar

The BJP’s attempt to retain power in Karnataka has failed, sending a clear message to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah that their ‘double engine’ strategy doesn’t work in the state. The election results also highlight the strength of the Siddaramaiah factor over the Modi factor, resulting in a significant loss for the Prime Minister.

The results have also indicated that BJP’s ‘Chanakya’ Amit Shah’s plan of selecting fresh faces as candidates and sidelining state veterans, including BS Yediyurappa, KS Eshwarappa, and Jagadish Shettar, has backfired for the party, resulting in its loss.

During the elections, Modi and Shah held road shows and rallies to emphasize the importance of central leadership in forming a ‘double engine government’. However, this strategy failed to gain traction against the state leadership of the Congress.

Also read: Karnataka polls: Who will be chief minister? Siddaramaiah or Shivakumar?

Former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah directly challenged Modi and Shah, and with the support of Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president DK Shivakumar, the party emerged victorious after Siddaramaiah’s campaign.

The Siddaramaiah factor

The Siddaramaiah factor proved to have worked in the elections, as he is the only person who attacked Modi and Shah without any fear. During their election rallies, Modi and Shah, as well as other leaders from the party, attacked Siddaramaiah on several occasions.

However, on the ground, Siddaramaiah’s speeches resonated with voters more than those of Modi and Shah. Ultimately, the election became a contest between Siddaramaiah and Modi, with the former emerging as the more impactful leader based on the election results.

The BJP attempted to label the AHINDA (Kannada acronym for Alpasankhyataru or minorities, Hindulidavaru or backward classes, and Dalitaru or Dalits) leader Siddaramaiah as a Muslim leader by referring to him as ‘Siddramullah Khan’ (as stated by BJP National General Secretary CT Ravi).

However, this strategy boomeranged on the BJP, as it led to the Muslim community standing firmly with the Congress, as well as the Kuruba and other Backward communities (excluding those in the coastal districts) distancing themselves from the BJP. The influence of Siddaramaiah, which is significant in North Karnataka, had a major impact on the election results.

DK Shivakumar

Even though there were disputes between the KPCC chief DK Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah over the ‘CM race’, during the election they maintained good relations. Shivakumar also worked on strategies to counter the BJP, including bringing BJP rebel Lingayat leaders such as Lakshamana Savadi and Jagadish Shettar into the Congress party fold, which resulted in the Congress’s victory.

Also read: Karnataka polls: ‘BJP wiped out from Dravidian landscape,’ says Stalin

Although Shettar lost the elections, the impact was felt more among the Lingayat voters, who have traditionally supported the BJP. Additionally, Shivakumar’s tactic of fielding BJP rebel HD Thammaiah from Chikmagalur against BJP National General Secretary CT Ravi proved to be successful.

Both the Siddaramaiah and DKS factors played a crucial role in leading the Congress to victory against the BJP national leadership, especially Modi and Shah. Additionally, Shettar’s statement against BJP National General Secretary BL Santosh and Union Minister Prahlad Joshi had a significant impact on the Lingayat voters, who have traditionally supported the BJP.

Shettar’s comments exposed the plan of making a Brahmin the CM, which was a concern for the Lingayat community. Earlier, JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy had also hinted at the BJP’s plan to make a Peshwe Brahmin the CM.

Lingayats were dissatisfied with the BJP’s actions after the party removed its veteran leader BS Yediyurappa from the CM post and neglected him. Furthermore, the BJP’s subsequent failure to give importance to any other Lingayat leaders also had negative consequences for the party. The Congress capitalized on this and incorporated Lingayat leaders, such as Savadi and Shettar, into their electoral strategy, resulting in their success, says C Rudrappa, a political analyst.

The Panchamasali factor

The Panchamasali Lingayat reservation issue played a significant role in the Congress’s victory in the North Karnataka districts. The BJP’s decision to remove the 4% Muslim reservation and allocate 2% each to Lingayats and Vokkaligas did not have the desired effect for the party. The Panchamasali Lingayats, who are key in deciding around 60 constituencies in the North Karnataka region, were not convinced by the BJP government’s actions, as they were aware of the legal difficulties in implementing such a policy.

The Panchamasali movement, aimed at securing reservations under the 2A category, had already divided the Lingayat community due to the actions of BJP leader Basanagouda Patil Yatnal and other leaders. Consequently, the community as a whole seems to have turned against the BJP, resulting in significant gains for the Congress in the North Karnataka region, according to Nagarj Tuppad, an expert.

Corruption cases

 The BJP government has been hit by a series of corruption cases, including the PSI recruitment scam and the major allegation of the Karnataka State Contractors Association taking a 40% commission. These cases have significantly damaged the BJP’s reputation in the state. Additionally, the ‘Operation Lotus’ strategy of poaching MLAs from Congress and JD(S) to form the government did have an impact on the minds of voters, as the 2018 elections did not produce a clear mandate for any party.

Bharat Jodo Yatra worked

The Bharat Jodo Yatra by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi played a role in helping the state Congress fight the elections with a united front. The yatra boosted party morale, with party workers and leaders coming together to rebuild the party. Rahul Gandhi’s focus on rising prices also resonated with voters, particularly the below-poverty-line and middle-class segments, as well as women who were concerned about these issues. These factors went against the BJP, according to experts.

‘Double Engine’ pitch fails

The pitch of a ‘double engine’ government by both Modi and Shah, along with their state leaders, did not click with voters in Karnataka. Despite having a BJP-led government at both the Centre and in the state, the people of Karnataka did not see any significant benefits, including in areas such as GST returns and financial grants. Moreover, when the state was hit by drought and floods, the Centre’s response was inadequate, leading people to believe that the BJP was only focused on electoral politics. Consequently, Modi and Shah’s emphasis on the ‘double engine government’ failed to work in their party’s favour.

The failure of governance

The failure in governance also played a big role in the rural areas. The lack of attention to rural development, agricultural issues, and basic amenities like water, electricity, and healthcare led to a growing dissatisfaction among the rural population. Additionally, corruption in the distribution of funds for rural development schemes like MNREGA and other welfare programs left the rural population feeling neglected and cheated.

Also read: Karnataka election results | Wish to see Rahul Gandhi as PM: Siddaramaiah

Moreover, when the government in Bengaluru was busy making statements, the general public faced several problems at their level. They could not find justice in the police stations, village panchayat offices, and tahashildar offices and the MLAs were not responding on time. The file movement in the government was so slow and the bad governance and anti-incumbency factors did their job in removing this government, says Mahadevappa K, a social activist.

Overall, the BJP’s lack of understanding of the complexities of Karnataka politics, which heavily relies on caste calculations and mature political behaviour, contributed to their failure. Modi, Shah, and Santosh’s strategies failed to resonate with the people of Karnataka, who are known for their mature approach to politics. The central leadership of the BJP attempted to impose their ideas on the southern state, but the politically astute people of Karnataka rejected them, choosing to respond in their own way: voting out the BJP.