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How Karnataka Election Results Can Impact Prospects of BJP and Congress in 2024

If the party loses its strong bastion of Karnataka, its prospects in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh (the two states where elections are due in this year) will be severely impacted.
Karnataka Elections

Image credit: Rafat Alam

The high-pitch electoral battle in Karnataka is finally over. Most of the exit poll agencies predict a hung Assembly with the Congress having a slight edge and the Janata Dal (Secular) or JD(S) playing the role of a kingmaker. The results of the razor-sharp contest between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Congress and the JD(S) will be announced on May 13.

Occasions like this are very rare in India when all eyes are set on the election outcome of a state. There has not been a situation when the political future of two major parties — the BJP and the Congress — of the country hinged on the mandate given to a party in a state.

The future of not only the two political parties but also of the people leading it would depend on the poll results.

Going by history, it appears that it’s North India that has traditionally led to the rise of national political parties; and therefore, the region has influence in the country’s polity. But a lot has changed over the years.

This time, a South Indian state will decide the political career of the country’s two tall leaders — Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress’s Rahul Gandhi. It will also impact and decide the future politics of the country.

These election results will also decide whether whatever is happening in the country for the past nine years will continue the same way or become fiercer. The future of Opposition parties in Parliament, which seem to be losing its impacts, also depends on the results.

So, is Karnataka really going to change the politics of the country?

Barring two top leaders of the country, the Karnataka election results will not have much impact on the future of local leaderships of either the BJP or the Congress. Be it Siddaramaiah, DK Shivakumar and Jagdish Shettar of the Congress or BS Yediyurappa or Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai of the BJP, their influence in national politics is certainly not going to increase or decrease with the victory or loss.

PM Modi has so far lived three mantras of his politics — national security, nationalism terrorism and Hindutva. And all these in a way suits him and his party's ideology (the BJP). Issue after issues continue to crop up, and the space for any other political party in national politics is shrinking for several reasons, including communal polarisation. Constitutional institutions are becoming irrelevant. People’s hopes and expectations now rest on the Supreme Court instead of those who hold constitutional positions.

Such a situation has never been seen before in this country.

The recent election results suggest that voters have decided not to allow their votes to be divided. In the 2020 Bihar elections, the RJD-led coalition of the Congress and the Left parties had a direct contest with the JD(U)-led alliance of the NDA (comprising the BJP and smaller regional parties).  The RJD-Congress and CPI (ML) combine (also called Mahagathbandhan or Grand Alliance) secured 37.23% of the total valid votes polled (42,142,828), with the NDA’s share being 37.26%.

Though the NDA formed the government under the chief ministership of Nitish Kumar (of the Janata Dal – United or JD-U), he parted ways with the alliance and is at present at the helm of the affairs with Mahagathbandhan’s support.

The major takeaway of the Bihar election was that the electorate did not split and supported the two coalitions.

The same happened the next year in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Following a cliffhanger, the BJP defeated the SP in UP and the BJP lost at the hands of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in West Bengal.

In UP, the BJP got 41.6% of the total votes polled in the state, the SP’s vote share stood at 32%. The latter improved its vote share by over 10 percentage points.

The TMC recorded 48% votes in West Bengal, the BJP secured 38%. The BJP’s vote share witnessed a whopping rise of 28% compared with the previous election results.

Both the Congress and the Left had governments in West Bengal, but people junked the two parties and voted either in favour of the TMC or the BJP.

What’s the message? It is loud and clear: the electorate will now decide who will fight whom, not the Opposition.

Now, it’s Karnataka’s turn.

If the Congress loses the Karnataka elections, Modi will emerge as a powerful leader who has redefined everything according to his own wishes. As is already happening, all narratives will revolve around nationalism, terrorism, Hinduism and national security.

When the appointment of Sanjay Mishra as the director of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) was challenged in the Supreme Court, the government defended his candidature in such a way that the top court had to ask if the ED would collapse without him. This is an example of how the process of destroying institutions is going on by making individuals important.

Karnataka is also important because there is a direct contest  between the Congress and the BJP like in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh.

Rahul Gandhi and his party may appear weak to many, but if Congress wins Karnataka, it will change the political landscape of the country. The results will also decide the credibility of the Congress scion because his Bharat Jodo Yatra did not get the kind of support anywhere else as it got in Karnataka.

It will also decide whether the appointment of Mallikarjun Kharge as the Congress president yielded any result inwill go in favour of the grand old party.

With the victory of the grand old party, not only Rahul Gandhi will  emerge as a strong leader but it will also raise Congress' stature in the entire Opposition.

This victory and defeat will also decide whether the experience of seniors and the struggle of youth will have to be balanced within the Congress.

It is alleged that the Congress’ central leadership is so weak that it has no command over its leaders; therefore, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot refused to obey the high command and Sachin Pilot has begun an agitation against the alleged corruption of his own party-run government in the state. 

If the party loses its bastion in Karnataka, its prospects in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh (the two states where elections are due this year) will be severely impacted. This will create a stir within the party, and some new scenarios may emerge.

If the BJP faces defeat, it will put PM Modi in the dock in his own party and in its ideological mentor the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). It will weaken him as a national leader as well.

The loss will create a stir within the saffron brigade. The MPs will question that when Modi and Amit Shah decide everything, what is their relevance and how are they expected to defend the decision taken from Delhi.

The Karnataka results will also be a cause for concern for BJP leaders Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan and Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh, both of whom are set to face elections later this year. It will also be a gateway to the 2024 general elections. 

The views expressed are personal.

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