Karnataka Election: Majoritarianism Loses to Strong Political Resistance
Image credit: Rafat Alam
The Congress’s huge and likely unbeatable lead on 134 seats in the Karnataka election as of Saturday afternoon, leaving the BJP trailing, signals a new shift in politics. Karnataka chief minister (CM) Basavaraj Bommai conceded defeat at noon. “Despite efforts by the Prime Minister (PM) and BJP workers, we could not make the [halfway] mark—we will analyse the results in detail.”
Many would say the Congress was bound to wrest power from the BJP in Karnataka—but its national implications will be more important. Karnataka will profoundly shape the electoral campaign for the 2024 General Election.
Bommai and the BJP could not overcome the overwhelming anti-incumbency despite PM Narendra Modi’s relentless campaigning. The BJP believed that Modi would swing votes for the party through numerous roadshows, but as the nation watched with dismay, the campaign deteriorated to equating the Hanuman with the Bajrang Dal. Modi exhorted voters to chant “Jai Bajrang Bali” while exercising their franchise.
Indeed, the BJP has a hefty vote share in Karnataka even today, but the Congress won the decisive mandate.
RELIGIOUS SLOGANS NO CURE
The religious slogan raised by Modi to get votes for the BJP violated the Model Code of Conduct and the Representation of People’s Act, 1951, prohibiting political leaders and parties from asking for votes in the name of religion. The Election Commission of India’s non-action and deafening silence on complaints against Modi raising religious slogans are very worrying and perplexing.
Modi stridently reciting the religious slogan “Jai Bajrang Bali” amounts to mixing religion with politics—an outrageous act contrary to the law and secularism. It also negates the vision of the Jan Sangh founder Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, who said in the Constituent Assembly on December 17, 1946, that the British “introduced religion into Indian politics”.
The Eedina poll survey showed that 67% of the respondents felt that the “Bommai government should not be given another chance”. It strongly reflected the anti-incumbency and showed the failure of the Modi-centric campaign, which relegated the CM to the margins of the campaign and didn’t give adequate space and prominence to leading leaders like BS Yediyurappa.
The mandate proved beyond doubt that the anti-incumbency wave was one of the most significant factors behind the BJP fall—combined with the widely persistent Bommai government’s image that it took 40% commission (bribe) from contractors struck a fatal blow. Besides, rising inflation and unemployment compounded the government’s crisis.
CONGRESS’S MICRO-LEVEL VOTER ENGAGEMENT
One of the critical strategies of the Congress was its leaders, especially like Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, engaging with voters at the micro level and flagging regional issues as opposed to the high-decibel Modi campaign with spectacular dazzling roadshows.
The way Rahul rode a pillion on a delivery guy’s scooter for almost 2 km established his affinity with the masses, reeling under back-backing price rise, corruption and complete collapse of governance.
WOMEN’S SUPPORT TO CONGRESS, NEHRU’S VISION
One of the determining factors behind the Congress surge was women’s support. The India Today-Axis My India exit poll showed that 40% of women voters preferred the Grand Old Party to the BJP. It showed that the Congress got 11 points compared to BJP’s 6 in getting women’s support.
According to psephologist and Swaraj India cofounder Yogendra Yadav, several promises in the Congress’s “Guarantee Card”, like monthly Rs 2,000 for women heads of households and 10 kg rice for every family member under the Anna Bhagya Yojana, became the driving force for women to support the party. Besides, the party’s promise of making bus rides free for women mobilised them in its favour.
Over the years, women in large numbers have been turning up to vote nationwide. This neglected but defining gender aspect of electoral democracy needs to be deeply analysed to understand the dynamics of Indian politics and the Congress surge in Karnataka.
After the 1952 General Elections, PM Jawaharlal Nehru in his letter addressed to CMs on May 18, 1952, regretted that only a few women candidates were elected to the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. “I am quite sure that our real and basic growth will only come when women have a full chance to play their part in public life,” he wrote. “Wherever they have had this chance, they have, as a whole, done well, better if I may say so, than the average man.”
Nehru asserted that “the future of India will probably depend more upon the women than the men”. He repeated the same stand on September 20, 1953, in another letter to CMs. “... the standard of Indian womanhood is high, and Indian women have brought us more credit in the world than perhaps the men. A nation cannot go far ahead unless it gives full scope to its women.”
The Congress getting more points in the Karnataka survey and giving guarantees to women on several matters affecting their daily lives constituted a decisive factor behind its victory. A lot of credit should also be given to Rahul for launching the unprecedented Bharat Jodo Yatra, which connected with ordinary people, specifically women, during its days in Karnataka and flagged their concerns.
COLLAPSE OF HINDUTVA STRATEGY
The complete collapse of the BJP’s Hindutva strategy in Karnataka, centering around hizab, halal meat, azan, the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Act, 2020, and the call for a comprehensive social and economic boycott of Muslims—who constitute 12%-14% of the state’s population—was a significant factor in the party’s defeat.
The “Jai Bajrang Bali” slogan, after the Congress manifesto promised a statewide ban on the Bajrang Dal, gave hope to the party that Modi would turn the tide in its favour.
The BJP’s defeat has proved that Modi can be beaten if influential regional leaders espouse fundamental issues of people, being hoodwinked in the name of Hindutva and narrow nationalism, which the BJP conflates with aggressive majoritarianism.
DEFEAT OF MAJORITARIANISM
Despite around a 35% vote share in Karnataka, the BJP’s majoritarianism has been defeated in the state. Karnataka women have played a significant role in defeating majoritarianism and it should be replicated across the country.
This is the meaning and import of the Karnataka election results, which have a historical significance for the whole country to defend and salvage the idea of India.
The writer was the officer on special duty to former President KR Narayanan. The views are personal.
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