In the end, the writing was on the wall.
exit polls after May 10 vote in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, he had projected that the opposition Congress Party had a better chance of forming the next government than Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Yet few would have predicted the scale of the Congress victory, against the backdrop of the BJP’s dominance of Indian politics in recent years, and the ruling party’s ability to form governments even in states where it fails to secure a majority, often using controversial means. .
On Saturday, the Congress managed to win 135 out of 224 seats in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly despite those odds, securing 43 percent of the vote, 5 percent more than in the previous 2018 election and 7 percent more than the BJP this time. Modi’s party, which had won 104 seats in 2018, had to settle for 66 this time. The Janata Dal (Secular), or JD-S, the state’s third-largest party, won 19 seats.
Local political factors were central to that result, analysts said. And while the repercussions of the result will reverberate through the BJP headquarters in New Delhi, they do not necessarily herald a dramatic shift in the national mood against the incumbent prime minister.
“The Congress leadership in Karnataka stood together and the BJP collapsed under its own misrule and infighting,” Dakshina Murthy, a veteran political commentator and author from Bengaluru, the Karnataka capital, told Al Jazeera KS. “The wave against incumbency against the saffron party was palpable on the ground,” she said, referring to the BJP’s saffron flag.
the great message
David Bodapati, a senior journalist who has covered Karnataka politics for three decades, noted that Congress had won by the largest margin of any victor in the state since 1989, when it won 178 seats and garnered 43.76 percent. of the votes
This clear majority allows Congress to form a government of its own, as it did in 2013. A fractured term in 2018, when the BJP was the largest party but fell short of the 113-majority mark, led to four chief ministers. under two governments sworn in for five years. That means the state is likely to have a stable government for the next five years.
By contrast, with its departure from Karnataka, the BJP no longer holds power in any of the five southern Indian states.
Ultimately, the result could serve as a morale boost for the opposition in otherwise embattled India as it tries to strategize to oust Modi at the national level, ahead of the country’s elections likely to take place in April and May 2024.
Victory of ‘secularism’?
Addressing reporters on the election result, the highest leader of the state Congress and former prime minister, Siddaramaiah, who goes by only one name, said: “This is a victory for a secular party. The people of Karnataka do not tolerate communal politics.”
Unlike many opposition leaders at the state and national level, who are often hesitant to confront the BJP’s anti-Muslim political campaigns too directly, Siddaramaiah has been consistent in opposing the divisive politics of Modi’s party.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who visited 20 constituencies in Karnataka during his Bharat Jodo Yatra (a Congress walk march to spread the message of peace and unity in 12 states and two union territories last year), echoed Siddaramaiah’s statement, saying: “Karnataka has closed the door of hate and opened the shop of love.”
The outgoing BJP government had introduced a series of laws and regulations that were widely seen as targeting the state’s Muslims, who make up about 13 percent of Karnataka’s population of 60 million. These included a ban on wearing hijab by Muslim students in educational institutions last year and the removal of a 4 percent reserve on government jobs and educational institutions from which many sub-communities among Muslims were benefiting. The BJP government has also passed laws ostensibly against forced religious conversions (India’s Hindu right wing often accused Muslims and Christians of using seduction and coercion to make Hindus abandon their faith) and prohibited the slaughter of cows, among others.
Muslims have frequently clashed harassment in Karnataka under the rule of the BJP. These laws gave legal cover to attacks against Muslims. Many Muslim men have been assaulted, for example accused of love jihadan unproven Hindu right-wing conspiracy theory that claims they court Hindu women to convert them to Islam.
Muslims have been killed on charges that they ate beef; the latest was the brutal murder of a Muslim merchant in Mandya on March 31. There were also calls from Hindu groups in Karnataka to ban halal meat, ban the use of loudspeakers for the Islamic call. for prayers, and prevent Muslim merchants from running businesses near Hindu temples.
But the election results suggest that the BJP’s efforts to agitate islamophobia – a recipe that has worked well in the northern states – has given limited results in Karnataka.
“The intelligent and peace-loving people of Karnataka have rejected the fanaticism and violence unleashed in minorities by the BJP,” Ashok Maridas, the leader of the Karnataka Congress, told Al Jazeera. “People want good government, better roads, hospitals and schools to care for the downtrodden.”
Local problems: rising prices, corruption
Political commentators say local issues such as price gouging and corruption played a part in the BJP’s defeat. Murthy says that allegations of corruption against the outgoing government have seeped into the minds of voters. “It turned out to be detrimental to the BJP.”
Congress weaponized one particular taunt, repeatedly referring to the BJP government as the “40 percent sarkar (government)“ – a reference to allegations by Karnataka contractors that BJP leaders and officials take 40 percent of the bid amount for state-funded infrastructure projects as a bribe.
Modi attended nearly two dozen election rallies in Karnataka, but that couldn’t save the party’s fortunes. “There was an absence of local leadership in the BJP. The Modi magic did not work for the Kannadigas (as the people of Karnataka are known),” said Bodapati. In Bangalore, at the BJP’s state office, workers and party leaders have refused to comment on the setback.
Portent of the future?
At an event organized by Eddelu Karnataka (Wake Up Karnataka), a grassroots movement, on April 25 in Bangalore, sephologist-turned-politician Yogendra Yadav told Al Jazeera that the Karnataka election results would set the tone for the election. of Lok Sabha of 2024.
“The BJP wants to make the southern state the center of lynching and love of jihad,” he said, describing the state as a “battleground to save Indian democracy.”
But Murthy disagrees.
“State elections are about local issues. Every election is different,” she said. “I don’t see the results having much to do with the Lok Sabha polls. The BJP has probably realized the limitations of Hindutva’s aggressive policy after its latest defeat.” Hindutva or political Hinduism is the ideology of the BJP.
However, the result will have an effect beyond Karnataka, Murthy admitted. “It will definitely bolster the confidence of the opposition.”