Celebrations have begun at the BJP headquarters at Malleshwaram in Bengaluru after the party captured Karnataka with projections of simple majority to the ruling party at the centre. Other than entering South India with a chance to break up the Confederation of South India that is building up against a “North Indian party”, the Karnataka victory has put the Congress out of contention in the 2019 general elections.
All the Federal Front leaders must be happy with the Congress defeat, especially after AICC president Rahul Gandhi announced himself as the prime ministerial candidate, opening himself for derisive campaign from the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but more important causing consternation among the opposition leaders – West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, former UP chief minister and SP chief Akhilesh Yadav and a host of others. Yadav was polite and dismissed it as enthusiasm of the young Congress leader but a decision of the PM candidate of the grouping in the works would be made at the appropriate time.
Clearly, the Karnataka victory robs the Congress of confidence as the momentum is now with the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, or to put it more correctly, Prime Minister Modi and the BJP in this order, as its relentless election machinery is already preparing for assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. In all these states, the BJP is the ruling party and faces anti-incumbency as its losses in bye-elections indicate.
But after conquering Karnataka by getting the BJP to become the largest single party in Karnataka, there will be renewed vigour and energy among the BJP cadres and Sangh Parivar volunteers as they implement the Modi-Shah electoral strategy on the ground in these three states.
It appeared that the Congress was running a good electoral campaign, giving all it could to the Modi till April 30. It was the arrival of the Prime Minister in May with his powerful oratory and concentrated attack on the Congress and Rahul Gandhi that changed the election on its head. It was the turning point – Modi’s arrival and his punishing pace he set for himself with three rallies a day. Before his arrival, it was BJP president Amit Shah who prepared the ground, set in motion the micro-management machinery in place.
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If the victory in Karnataka gave the BJP a supreme confidence, the defeat reduced the Congress to Puducherry, Punjab and Parivar (referring to the Gandhi family) as Modi jocularly described his principal political opponent. Clearly, it is Modi’s victory in Karnataka. He had deputed many ministers to stay put in Karnataka to help the party’s assault on the most important Southern state that is it’s the gateway to South India.
The reasons for the Congress loss can be attributed to the strategy of the party leadership, Rahul Gandhi and Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, that had gone horribly wrong. Although the Congress ran a seemingly good campaign, it could do hold on to its strong holds of Hyderabad Karnataka and Central Karnataka.
Rahul Gandhi’s soft Hindutva – his temple runs – his choice of national issues—did not appear to go down well with the voters in Karnataka like in Gujarat where he gave the BJP a run for its money. But in Gujarat, the BJP was facing anti-incumbency and here in Karnataka it was the Congress that needed a larger push and pull factor from its national leadership. In this, Rahul Gandhi flopped once again.
His attempts to project Karnataka model of development and governance and take its help to project himself as the prime ministerial candidate to take on Modi in the 2019 general elections to the Lok Sabha failed miserably as voters of this southern state gave a big thumbs down. Unlike the other opposition parties that are trying to form a coalition of forces to take on the Modi-Shah juggernaut, the BJP would much rather have Rahul Gandhi as its opponent as its victory could be that much easier.
Siddaramaiah, an import from Janata Dal (Secular), established himself as the undisputed leader of the Congress party in Karnataka, was in charge of strategy, ticket distribution and campaign. Clearly his political strategy, championing the cause of AHINDA - Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s extensive work throughout his tenure from 2013 to 2018 to consolidate AHINDA (the Kannada acronym for minorities, backward classes and Dalits) votes – bombed as other dominant castes consolidated behind the BJP.
His Lingayat card also backfired badly. The BJP maintained its hold over the powerful Lingayats, of which BJP chief ministerial candidate BS Yeddyurappa is the tallest leader. Siddaramaiah tried to split the Lingayat vote by offering to give minority status to the community fulfilling its long-pending demand.
His move to highlight the Kannada pride pitting it against the nationalism of the BJP too a beating. His strategy of steer the issue of BJP’s nationalism away by privileging the local sentiment of sub-nationalism with a separate flag and an anthem for the state and fighting against the centre’s “forceful imposition” of Hindi language was rejected by the Karnataka voter.