The Congress has been quick to pin the BJP’s loss on Prime Minister Modi and has accused him of running a divisive and negative campaign while there was nothing specific for the Karnataka voters, who could see the difference in the two campaigns. A report by Amit Agnihotri
In a major setback, the BJP lost the high stakes Karnataka assembly polls despite an aggressive campaign led by PM Modi.
The BJP could win only 65 seats as compared to 136 of the Congress, 19 of JD-S and 4 others out of total 224. In the 2018 polls, the BJP had won 104 seats. Though the JD-S-Congress coalition had come to power in 2018, the BJP was able to defeat the HD Kumaraswamy government in 2019 after poaching 17 Congress MLAs. BJP leader BS Yediyurappa then became the chief minister but was replaced by Basavaraj Bommai in 2021.
Though Union home minister Amit Shah and BJP chief JP Nadda also campaigned for the saffron party, PM Modi became the face of the party as he conducted a high-pitched voter outreach with 19 public meetings and six road shows to counter the anti-incumbency of the Bommai government.
The main appeal of the PM’s campaign was a second term for the BJP saying the double engine government will further push development in the southern state. Nadda said the state won’t get PM Modi’s blessings if the BJP lost.
Karnataka was important for the BJP as it was the only state where the party had political power in the whole of south India. Now, that advantage has been lost ahead of the major assembly polls in 2023 and the 2024 national polls. Among the four assembly polls this year are Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Telangana. The BJP has been trying to get an entry into Telangana where the Karnataka results will have an impact. The BJP hardly has a presence in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Together, the five southern states have 129 Lok Sabha seats.
Out of the four poll-bound states, Congress rules in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. The party directly fights the BJP in three states, MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh while it faces ruling BRS in Telangana. Karnataka, the only southern state where the BJP had managed to make inroads, sends 28 members to the Lok Sabha. As a result, the BJP will now be seen majorly as a north Indian party and this could go against its claims of being the largest political party in the country.
Even before the final results were out and counting trends indicated a win for the Congress, chief minister Basavaraj Bommai conceded defeat.”We’ve not been able to make the mark. I take responsibility for this debacle. We will do a detailed analysis. As a national party, we will not only analyse but also see what deficiencies and gaps were left at various levels. We take this result in our stride. We will work as a responsible opposition,” Bommai said. Earlier, Bommai said that he was confident of a BJP victory. The Congress, he had claimed, was trying to reach out to other parties because it did not have confidence in its legislators.
The Congress quickly described the results as a defeat for PM Modi and accused him of running a divisive campaign saying the BJP leader had only talked about issues like “poisonous snake”, “riots will happen if Congress comes to power”, “Congress protects terrorists”, “Congress abused me 91 times”, and “Congress wants to lock Bajrangbali”, while there was nothing specific for the Karnataka voters, who could see the difference in the two campaigns.
While the PM charged the Congress of being corrupt and guilty of surrendering to terrorists, Modi’s big attack on the Congress over its manifesto promise to ban organizations like Bajrang Dal and PFI got the maximum attention. The PM accused the Congress of planning to lock Lord Hanuman also known as Bajrangbali and asked the voters to chant Jai Bajrangbali before casting ballots. The Congress said this was an attempt to polarise the electorate and countered the charge by saying that the Bajrang Dal could not be equated to Lord Bajrangbali. Karnataka Congress chief assured the voters that the party would construct Lord Bajrangbali temples across the state if the party came to power. Earlier, the Congress had accused the BJP of trying to divide the voters over the Hijab, Halal and Love Jihad controversies.
Ahead of the assembly polls, the BJP faced strong anti-incumbency due to corruption charges against the Basavaraj Bommai government and suffered from severe infighting in the party over ticket distribution.
As a result, the BJP lost 25 senior leaders to the Congress including ex-deputy chief minister Laxman Savadi and former chief minister Jagdish Shettar, who lost from his Hubli seat. Shettar’s joining helped the grand old party both in perception building as well as electorally in the crucial Hubli-Dharwad area.
Firstly, the ill-treatment of Shettar in the BJP, where he grew through the rank and file over the past decades, showcased the chaos within the saffron party. Secondly, Shettar belongs to the powerful Lingayat community which influenced around 120 assembly seats spread across vast areas from Bidar to Tumkur. Besides, the Lingayat community has around 10,000 Mutts across the state which are very influential.
Shettar was the biggest Lingayat leader in the BJP after former chief minister BS Yediyurappa. The BJP had to remove Yediyurappa earlier over corruption charges but the party was forced to bring back the veteran in this election to deal with huge dissatisfaction among the Lingayats.
The 2023 elections indicated that the BJP had not been able to make its much-needed breakthrough into the Vokkaliga and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes votes.
In March, the BJP had tweaked the reservations in the state, scrapping the 4 per cent OBC (Other Backward Classes) votes for Muslims and allocating a chunk of it to the Vokkaligas and Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Muslims who were eligible for reservation benefits were categorised under the economically weaker sections category.
Former chief minister Yediyurapppa had claimed that “Hundred percent of the Lingayat community is with us. Congress is trying their level best to create some problems but almost all Lingayats Swamis are with us and told me that they will support BJP.” But the claim proved to be hollow.
“The message from Karnataka is that the ‘end’ of BJP’s negative, communal, corrupt, rich-oriented, anti-women-youth, social-divisive, false propaganda, individualistic politics has begun. This is a strict mandate of a new positive India against inflation, unemployment, corruption and animosity,” tweeted Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav.
The Congress picked up the 40 percent commission issue after the contractors’ association levelled charges that they were being forced to pay bribes for all government contracts. Later, a contractor and a BJP member Santosh Patil wrote letters to the PM but his concerns were not addressed. Santosh later committed suicide. The BJP then had to remove minister KS Eshwarappa, who had been booked in the abetment of suicide case.
During the campaign, a video of the PM speaking to Eshwarappa over the phone and asking him to ensure BJP’s victory, had gone viral. Before Eshwrappa, minister Ramesh Jarkiholi had to resign over an alleged sex CD scandal in 2021.
In March this year, the Lokayukta police laid a trap on the basis of the businessman’s complaint and the KSDL chairman’s son Prashant Madal –a Karnataka Administrative Services official and was the chief accounts officer of the Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board – was caught red-handed by the police while accepting an initial bribe amount of Rs 40 lakh. A total amount of Rs 2.02 crore of bribes from the KSDL suppliers was found in the possession of the son of the BJP MLA when he was caught at his private office in central Bengaluru, while an amount of Rs 6.10 crore was seized from the residence of the BJP MLA and KSDL chairman Madal Virupakshappa, who was a close associate of former Karnataka BJP chief minister B S Yediyurappa. The Lokayukta police had accused officials of a firm, identified as Karnataka Aromas Ltd, of paying bribes to the tune of Rs 90 lakh to be given supply contracts by the KSDL.
Another shocker for BJP came in April when former Karnataka minister Murugesh Nirani, who contested from Bilgi constituency on a BJP ticket, was booked after 963 traditional silver lamps worth Rs 21.45 lakh were seized from a factory staff quarter. Nirani who held the Large and Medium Scale Industries portfolio was booked under Section 171H of the IPC related to “illegal payments in connection with an election.”
All through the campaign, the Congress top brass including president Mallikarjun Kharge, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra alleged that the Bommai government was born out of corruption and had plundered the state charging commissions for government contracts and jobs while charging that the PM did not mention these issues in his poll speeches.