By Gouri Satya, Sr. Journalist
The electrician, who came to my house on Sunday soon after the counting of votes of the Assembly elections on Saturday (May 13), was eager to express his opinion about the outcome of the polls, as the subject was still hot and fresh. Referring to the Congress’ stunning victory, he remarked that their community voted in favour of the Congress. They had received directions from their religious leaders to back the Congress as, he said, the ruling party, which they trusted in the last four years, had let them down. Their defeat was their own creation (ಸ್ವಯಂಕೃತಾಪರಾಧ).
It was obvious from his remarks that there was discontent among Lingayats, as its prominent leaders including former Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa, who had played a crucial role in building up the party in the State, had been deprived of the Chief Ministership for the rest of the term and sidelined, while Jagadish Shettar and Laxman Savadi, two influential senior leaders of the community, had been denied tickets along with nearly 20 others.
This disillusionment among the Lingayats largely benefited the Congress in scoring a stunning victory at the hustings. Savadi, for example, won by a huge margin of over 76,000 votes, defeating BJP’s Mahesh Kumathalli in Athani Assembly Constituency. Similarly, the saffron party was swept away in its stronghold of Lingayat belt in North Karnataka. The party which had 38 Lingayat legislators in 2018 could manage to win only 18 seats this time. On the other hand, as many as 34 Lingayats won on Congress tickets, while it was 26 in 2013 and 16 in 2018. The victory of so many Lingayat candidates gives credence to the remarks made by the electrician.
The results also reveal the consolidation of Muslim votes in favour of the Congress. Of the 15 candidates it had fielded, nine were elected. BJP had fielded none and no Muslim candidate fielded by the JD(S) was elected.
The BJP replaced many strong members of the party with as many as 70 new faces. The Gujarat experiment failed to benefit the party as could be seen from the results. It could have ensured the victory of some of its popular and senior candidates by retaining them in their Constituencies, but, on the other, pitted them against strong Congress leaders, like in the case of Minister V. Somanna, who was made to contest against former Chief Minister Siddharamaiah. Both Varuna and Chamarajanagar were outside Somanna’s home turf, Govindarajanagar in Bengaluru.
In an Assembly election, voters assess the State Government’s performance and elect candidates who are popular and easily accessible to them. In such a scenario, bringing outsiders to contest against the local candidates may fail to yield the desired result. This appears to be what happened in the case of the BJP. Voters were also disappointed over the lacklustre administration of Basavaraj Bommai. Bommai could barely match the two Congress strongmen,Siddharamaiah and D.K. Shivakumar. As a result, the leadership failed to effectively counter allegations like the 40% commission forcefully made out by the Congress during the campaign.
Besides allegations of widespread corruption, the BJP’s reign was marred by a series of controversies like the hijab ban. Issues like communalism and inflation were other strong factors that cost the BJP dearly. Take the price of an LPG cylinder, it is as high as Rs. 1,100 today, which is too expensive for even a middle-class family. Similarly, the prices of most household items have become dear, turning the anger of the people against the ruling dispensation. No surprise, therefore, the five promises made to voters by Congress, by handing over a ‘guarantee card’ to every household in the State, caught the imagination of the people, in particular the poor.
These and other issues like relying chiefly on Prime Minister for the party campaign led the BJP Government to a disastrous end. Its scoreboard nosedived to less than half of the Congress’ — 66 against 135.