What an emphatic victory for Congress and what a lesson the Karnataka voters have taught the State BJP that was corrupt, arrogant, incompetent and ill-prepared.
The scale of Congress’ victory in the Karnataka Assembly elections is a record of both seats and vote share in over 30 years. The party has won 135 seats with a vote share of 42.9 percent. These figures were bested only once in 1989 when it won 178 seats with a vote share of 43.76 percent.
The Congress did many things right, while the BJP did many things wrong. To begin, the BJP had severe anti-incumbency, and in a State that has not elected an incumbent to power in 30 years, BJP should have been better prepared.
Instead of consolidating their Lingayat vote base, they threw out B.S. Yediyurappa, the tallest leader in that community. The effect? Congress made inroads into this community, doubling its seats in the Lingayat-dominant areas.
Congress had just 21 seats in Lingayat-dominated regions in 2018. This time they got 42! Overall, Congress now has 39 Lingayat MLAs plus other reserved Constituencies where Lingayats are dominant ! This means 30 percent of Congress MLAs are from this one community alone with another 10 percent dependent on them. One wonders, has BJP lost the Lingayat vote bank for sometime to come?
In the old Mysuru region, where Vokkaligas are a dominant community, BJP did not have a single leader who could galvanise this community. On the other hand, Congress got D.K. Shivakumar, a Vokkaliga, who managed to convince the community to leave their perceived traditional party, the JD(S), and vote for Congress. The effect? Congress made inroads into the old Mysuru JD(S) Vokkaliga bastion and more than doubled its tally. From 11 in 2018 to 28 this time! One wonders, has JD(S) lost its Vokkaliga vote bank too?
BJP, instead of projecting its local leaders, were too dependent on the North Indian leaders. What will Rural Karnataka voters understand when Modi speaks in Hindi? Worse, Modi did not even once mention the name of the local candidates nor explicitly ask for their vote for that candidate.
Narendra Modi probably had only positive effects in the Greater Bengaluru region, where BJP went from 11 in 2018 to 16 this year.
Additionally, with so many road shows so close to the election, when local BJP leaders and workers should have been working in their Constituency, they wasted their time and money arranging road shows for national leaders.
Local Congress leaders, on the other hand, campaigned consistently. Their workers were on the street working to get voters to the booths. They saved money which they spent well on the voters.
The two most important factors that helped Congress and one crucial lesson for BJP are — guarantee schemes and pan-Karnataka leadership works. Religious mobilisation will not work when voters face economic considerations.
The BJP should have realised that people are still reeling from the financial burdens of COVID. Instead of denouncing ‘welfarism’ as freebies, they should have embraced it and provided some succour. They did nothing in their budget, which was presented just a few months before the election.
On the other hand, Congress sent its workers with guarantee cards from door-to-door. They guaranteed five schemes: ‘Gruhalakshmi’ guaranteeing Rs. 2,000 per month to women, ‘Anna Bhagya’ guaranteeing 10 kg of rice per person per month, ‘Uchita Prayana’ guaranteeing free bus travel for women across the State, ‘Gruha Jyothi’ guaranteeing free 200 units of power and ‘Yuva Nidhi’ guaranteeing — Rs. 3,000 and Rs. 1,500 monthly for unemployed graduates and diploma holders for two years, respectively. These guarantees got the Congress party the votes of women and youths.
Congress may not have mentioned ‘conditions apply’ or the eligibility criteria to avail of these schemes, but that’s the trick. That’s advertising. Whether they can keep their promise or not is another matter, but for the moment, these promises excited the voters enough to vote for Congress.
The BJP could have countered it with its own promises, even if they were only mildly achievable, but instead, what did BJP have to offer? Nothing. The effect? Congress will rule for five years, no matter whether they fulfil or don’t fulfil most of their promises. They will worry about it in 2028.
The BJP did not have a leader. Basavaraj Bommai is not even a shadow to Yediyurappa. He is not a leader who is appealing to his own Lingayat community, let alone the State. We are sure Yeddy loved this because he knew Bommai would not garner votes or be a leader. Bommai’s appointment helped Yeddy teach BJP a lesson. A lesson the BJP did not learn when they sidelined him in 2013.
In Karnataka, it is not the ‘Modi Mantra’ but ‘Yeddy Tantra’ that works. The fact that V. Somanna lost to Siddharamaiah with such a massive margin in a Lingayat-dominant Constituency like Varuna suggests that Yeddy had a hand. He never liked Somanna and hated that BJP had sidelined him. Another example of Yeddy’s influence is in the Chikkamagalur constituency, where C.T. Ravi also lost.
C.T. Ravi unnecessarily mocked Yeddy, saying issuing BJP tickets will not be in someone’s kitchen. Soon, C.T. Ravi’s lieutenant of years, H.D. Thammaiah, a Lingayat, quit BJP, joined Congress, and defeated C.T. Ravi by over 5,000 votes. Lingayats dominate Chikkamagalur. And everyone knows Thammaiah is a Yeddy man.
On the other hand, Congress encouraged the leadership of Siddharamaiah, who has a pan-State appeal and can bring together a broader social coalition. It encouraged D.K. Shivakumar, a strong Vokkaliga leader with money and proven organisational skills. And they made Mallikarjun Kharge, a pan-State Dalit leader, the face of the Indian National Congress. They also gave tickets to locally powerful Lingayat leaders, and more importantly, they managed the ego clashes among these leaders well. The effect?
Consolidation of minorities and Hindu votes, be it Lingayat, Vokkaliga etc. They all voted based on their allegiance to their local leader rather than just the party. This won them seats.
BJP is now operating as Congress used to — from Delhi. This verdict is a lesson that they should not do so. They need loyal and robust local leaders.
Finally, we, Kannadigas, must be glad that Congress got such a fantastic mandate because otherwise, our State would have been in turmoil with the deployment of ‘Operation Kamala’ and JD(S) being the king-maker.
Right now, Karnataka has the third biggest economy in the country and is a prosperous State; let us hope this Congress Government, in its bid to give freebies, does not bankrupt our State and push us into deep debt.
Also, we hope it will be a corruption-free Government and not a Government that ends up using Karnataka tax-payers’ money to fill the Congress party’s coffers for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
For now, let’s hope we have a stable Government that has learnt from the previous Government’s mistakes.
This verdict has been a lesson for BJP and a warning for Congress.
P.S.: Our heartfelt condolences to resort owners and horse traders who were hoping for a hung verdict.
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