Karnataka Assembly elections 2023: Modi magic eroded

Dr. Santosh Kumar Mohapatra*

Many Indian voters may be emotional, credulous, and gullible, but they cannot be deluded or cannot be taken for granted always. The voters, especially at grassroots levels, including floating voters decide the election result by exercising suffrage cheekily, audaciously, and independently too. This is clearly manifested in the recent outcomes of the Assembly’s election of Karnataka.

The Karnataka election was a prestige issue for BJP as it had invested its human, political, and financial resources to the utmost capacity to retain power.  Prime Minister addressed huge numbers of meetings, and rallies, and made many road shows at the cost of taxpayers’ money to prevent a party from defeat as predicted earlier.

For Congress, it was a battle for identity while for voters, it was against emotional and religion-based politics, obscurantism, unscientific temper, communal polarization, polarisation, religious fanaticism, partisan news media, the brutality of crony capitalism, and corruption. It was an election to prove a point that vindictive politics or politics of raid and fear cannot influence electoral outcomes. Even though the election was seen as a battle for political suzerainty between Prime Minister Modi and Congress leaders of Karnataka, the magic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was found eroded and waning.

Exit polls had predicted a tight contest between Congress and the BJP with JD(S) playing a crucial role. But, voters of India’sprosperous state powered the Congress party to an astounding victory in a vicious battle marred by violence, denigration, mudslinging, communal polarisation and religious fanaticism.

The precipitous decline of BJP’s popularity is clearly palpable as the Karnataka verdict shows that Congress has a clear majority and the BJP has lost its only stronghold in the south.   What if the BJP has fallen to less than half of the Congress? If governance is bad, deceptive, and publicity-oriented, you cannot hoodwink voters always. Money and muscle power cannot fully influence the verdict always.

As per the latest trends in Karnataka Election Results, the Congress party is expected to win 136 seats out of 224 seats. The BJP is leading in 64 seats, and JD(S) in 20 others. The Mallikarjun Kharge-led Congress was leading by 44.4 percent vote share, while the BJP was at 37.4 percent vote share. At the same time, the JD(S) was at 10.5 percent vote share, the EC’s website showed. During Karnataka Assembly Elections 2018 —BJP has own 104, Congress 78, and JD(S) 37 seats.

According to some election analysts, Congress has won the 2023 Karnataka assembly elections by the biggest vote share and seats after a whopping 34 years. This election is the biggest victory for “any party in Karnataka” after 1989 during Veerendra Patil’s regime when the Congress had won 178 seats with a vote share of 43.76 percent.

In 1999, the Congress won 132 seats with a vote share of 40.84 percent, followed by 2013 when the party bagged 122 seats with a vote share of 36.6 percent.In 1994, JDS won a total of 115 seats with a vote percentage of 33.54. The BJP won 110 seats in 2008 with a vote share of 36.86 percent, followed by 2018 with 104 seats with a vote percentage of 36.3. In 2004, BJP got a total of 79 seats with a vote share of 28.33 per cent.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had swept 170 of the 224 assembly segments. The Congress and the JD(S), despite a pre-poll alliance, won merely 47 (36 Congress, 11 JD (S)). Today’s reversal, with the Congress and JD(S) nearly reaching 170 between them despite having no alliance, shows that Indian voters are too discerning to put their emotions above rational expectations.

Why didn’t the intense, personalized campaign by Prime Minister Narendra Modi work? Does it show a decline in his popularity and erosion of his magic? The Congress has reposed its faith in Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatraas Rahul Gandhi spent 27 days in the state covering seven districts. Rahul Gandhi touched upon 51 assembly seats during the Bharat Jodo Yatra. Out of these 51 seats, the Congress won over 30 seats. This shows that Bharat Jodo Yatra was successful in connecting voters with the Congress.

It is told that Congress promised many freebies claiming it to be an assistance in its fight against inflation. While the party fervently raised the issues like high prices of petrol and LPG cylinders, it promised Rs 2000 per month for every woman head of each household. To help youth fight unemployment, Congress promised a monthly allowance of Rs 3,000 to unemployed graduates and Rs 1,500 to unemployed diploma holders. It also promised to restore the old pension scheme and provide 200 units of free electricity. These issues may not be much relevant to urban cities like Bengaluru but echoed the sentiments of the rural population.

The Congress promised to ban organisations like Bajrang Dal and Popular Front of India (PFI )which spread hatred. While the BJP made it a poll issue saying the Congress wants to ban Bajrang Bali, the voters did not resonate with the BJP’s plank. The recital of Hanuman Chalisa publicly also did not help the BJP. The Congress appears to have effectively countered the narrative by promising the development of Hanuman temples across the state. The issue also appears to have polarised Muslim voters in the Old Mysuru region where JDS ceded its vote bank to Congress.

The Congress has been cornering BJP over corruption issues in the state. It accused the ruling BJP of taking a 40 per cent commission in every government contract. The issue even led to the suicide of a government contractor. Though the BJP did not field K. S. Eshwarappa or his son K.E. Kantesh who were at the centre of the controversy, Congress successfully took the issue to the masses and reaped dividends.

Since 2014, despite exerting enormous power and a brutal majority at the Centre, the BJP has not been able to master and settle well into new territories. Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, and West Bengal are tough states to snap for the BJP. Even after nine long years of maintaining a grip in New Delhi and calling for ‘Hindi, Hindu, and Hindustan’, the party has been inept to make a deeper imprint in these states.

The result of this election will influence the BJP’s strategy for the 2024 Lok Sabha election. The result has shown the limitation of using Hindutva politics and polarising voters, which the BJP did in many regions of India, Fifth, the Karnataka election results’ most positive message is one that goes to all of India: There are no substitutes to regional political leadership in Indian politics. Indian democracy works miracles only if regional leaders flourish along with national leadership.

In their 10th year in power now, the Modi-Shah BJP has shown a stark inadequacy at repeating their Lok Sabha success in Vidhan Sabhas. They’ve suffered serial losses in the states or settled for coalitions conceding much more ground to the partner than they would’ve liked. Check out Maharashtra, Haryana, and Bihar for as long as Nitish’s wagon was tied to their engine.

However, democracy cannot survive without a strong opposition as absolute power leads to autocracy, and oligarchy and makes rulers more supercilious, arrogant, vindictive, nonchalant, and insensitive to others’ problems as seen today. If there will be no strong brake, then the ruling steamroller with its brute majority, will bulldoze and crush the masses and become more pro-rich, pro-corporate, and embrace cronyism as already experienced in the last few years. Congress’s victory will democracy by strengthening brake. Similarly, BJP needs to act as a constructive opposition in Karnataka.

(The author is an Odisha-based eminent columnist/economist and social thinker. He can be reached through e-mail e-mail at [email protected] )

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English.

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