In the recently concluded elections, BJP obtained a massive vote share of 51.4 per cent in Karnataka. In 2014, BJP had got 43.4 per cent of the votes to Congress’ share of 41.2 per cent and JD(S)‘s share of 11.1 per cent.
The whole premise of the Congress and JD(S) alliance was that they would seamlessly transfer their votes to each other and decimate the BJP in this Lok Sabha election. Here are five clear reasons why this ‘Lutyens’ arithmetic’ took a beating.
The massive mandate delivered to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), along with its partners in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), stands out for multiple reasons. What is most remarkable is the number of large states, where BJP and its NDA partners have won 50 per cent or more of the total votes.
A good case in point is Karnataka, which delivered a stunning result where BJP won 25 out of 27 seats it contested, with one seat each going to a BJP-supported independent, the Congress and the Janata Dal – Secular (JD(S)). Leaders with long-standing electoral records like Mallikarjun Kharge, K H Muniyappa, H D Deve Gowda and Veerappa Moily have all been blown away in the Modi tsunami.
The standout statistic was BJP’s vote share of 51.4 per cent. A very clear mandate, which is not at all common in a first-past-the-post system. The vote share becomes 53.5 per cent, if one considers that the BJP contested 27 seats. 1984 was the last time a single party received 50 per cent plus vote share in Karnataka, during the Indira sympathy wave.
The combined vote share of Congress and JD(S) is 41.6 per cent; the difference between the vote shares of Congress-JD(S) combine and BJP is almost 10 points (1 per cent of vote share). If one considers the vote share of the 27 seats where BJP contested, then the difference rises to almost 12 points, a recipe for a sweep.
In 2014, BJP had 43.4 per cent of the votes against a Congress share of 41.2 per cent and a JD(S) share of 11.1 per cent. The whole premise of the Congress and JD(S) alliance was that the two parties can seamlessly transfer their votes to each other and decimate BJP in the Lok Sabha election with 9+ point difference. This reasoning was the basis for the concept of ‘Mahaghathbhandhan’ in various states, including Karnataka. I had on 18 April in Karnataka that this thinking originating in Lutyens Delhi might not succeed on the ground.
In the fight between the arithmetic and ground reality, the latter carried the day. There are five clear reasons for the ‘Lutyens arithmetic’ taking a beating.
Modi, Modi, Modi
Modi’s ability to add to the BJP vote share in any election, including in assembly elections, is a well-known phenomenon; but, opposition leaders and opinion polls somehow continue to underestimate the impact. Modi’s ability to start a rally with a few sentences in Kannada with specific references to the locality has always stood out; especially, when contrasted with Rahul Gandhi’s disastrous attempts to pronounce Kannadiga names last year. This meant that people were happy to ask translations to be cut off in Modi rallies across Karnataka. Modi’s impact and connect with young voters needs to be seen to be believed, as was evident with a good turnout of first-time voters across polling booths.
By continuously attacking Modi every few minutes, Congress and JD(S) leaders made the election more and more about Modi, amplifying his message and diminishing whatever they may have wanted to convey. Their silly attacks on social media on hiccups in execution on Modi policies such as Swachh Bharat and Jan Dhan may get likes and retweets but they missed the point that close to 25 per cent households in Karnataka were getting those facilities and were moving towards BJP.
Popular Kannada humourist Gangavati Pranesh refers to how such benefit delivery has been very popular, in his monologues. The over-the-top attack on Modi over national security matters through Rafale, surgical strikes and Balakot, only worsened it for Congress and JD(S). Central party decisions to talk about issues like unemployment in Karnataka, where finding employees (both urban and rural) is very tough, made Congress look out of touch with reality.
Mr Gandhi goes to Wayanad
By contesting from Wayanad, in addition to Amethi, Rahul Gandhi seemed to display the uncanny knack of picking up spectacular losing tricks from the former Chief Minister of Karnataka, Siddaramaiah. With Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad, the message Congress wanted to send was that it was in contention in all of South and this would have a ripple effect on all neighbouring constituencies, like Modi’s 2014 candidature from Varanasi. The actual result is that they couldn’t even win the two immediate neighbouring constituencies of Chamarajanagar (which they won with a margin of more than 1.4 lakh votes in 2014) and Mysuru-Kodagu. It is clear that the message which the electorate received was that Rahul Gandhi was seeing certain defeat in Amethi, like Siddaramaiah in 2018.
In addition, the Wayanad roadshow with Muslim League flags, certainly didn’t help matters for the coalition in Karnataka.
Love for lineage and adding by subtraction
Problem with “Lutyens arithmetic” is that ground reality is significantly different than the sums and equations such an arithmetic comes up with. In about in about 15 per cent of the state, BJP was a marginal player, until this election . There are local leaders of the alliance partners, whose territorial influence was severely threatened by the alliance in these parts. The wily old man of Karnataka politics, Deve Gowda, also showed the ability to copy his arch-rival, Siddaramaiah’s disastrous move to vacate a comfortable seat in favour of his lineage and move to a more difficult seat personally. Even in the eyes of traditional voters of JD(S), it was clear that only one family mattered.
Local Congress leaders openly sided with Sumalatha, the independent candidate in Mandya. They refused to attend a joint rally of Rahul Gandhi and Deve Gowda in the area. JD(S) leaders retaliated by working to defeat the Congress candidate from Mysuru-Kodagu, a prestige constituency for Siddaramaiah. The total lack of chemistry at the constituency level ensured that seats like Mandya, Mysuru-Kodagu and Tumkur were lost.
In constituencies where JD(S) had a much smaller presence, the assumption that its voter would be natural voters for the Congress has proven terribly wrong. The second choice of such voters, especially traditional JD(S) voters, has clearly turned out to be BJP. This was a big factor in taking the vote share of BJP higher and past the 50 per cent mark.
Candidate selection and local anti-incumbency
BJP had a few new faces in constituencies like Bangalore South, Kolar and Bellary. The overarching Modi factor and the fresh faces helped it avoid anti-incumbency. It was stupefying to see JD(S) contest seats like Udupi-Chikkamagalur (with a former Congress legislator as their candidate) and Shivamogga (with a candidate who lost the recent elections to the legislative assembly), without any hopes of winning. Congress fielded candidates like Krishna Byregowda and Ishwara Khandre, who are heavyweights in local politics alone and hence, had zero incentive to win a Lok Sabha election, to warm opposition benches. Congress also suffered by fielding the same set of tired faces like Kharge, Muniyappa, Moily, etc.
In the 2018 Karnataka Assembly elections, it seemed to be the turn of BJP to field uninspiring and unpopular candidates. This would reduce the vote share garnered by the party and by Modi, as the traditional BJP voters stayed home. However, the Lok Sabha elections have shown that BJP doesn’t have monopoly in the arena of fielding boring and unpopular candidates. In the case of Bangalore’s three urban constituencies, polling percentages dropped in wards which traditionally lean Congress heavily. This was an important factor in the vote share increase of BJP.
Local anti-incumbency against the State coalition government was also very visible. Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy’s government has been tagged as a government focused on only three districts to the detriment of the state. His intemperate statements such as being a being a ‘clerk’ dependent on Congress and being indebted to Rahul Gandhi, haven’t endeared him to the people. The incessant ‘crying game’ in public by all and sundry from the family only helped created more memes. One was reminded of the Kannada saying – “don’t trust a constantly crying man”.
The Lingayat issue again
Congress ministers D K Shivakumar and M B Patil fought a pitched battle on the appropriateness of the Siddaramaiah government’s aborted move to declare Lingayats a separate community from Hinduism. By reminding the electorate of this issue in conjunction with images from the Wayanad roadshow of Rahul Gandhi, Congress leaders seemed to be running a contest to score own goals, resulting in some of their supporters not participating in polls.
All these have contributed to the BJP increasing its vote share by 10 points in Karnataka and crossing the 50 per cent mark comfortably.
Now that the elections are done and the results are in, what remains to be seen is the impact on the coalition government in Karnataka. The probability is that the internal contradictions will bring it down. However, any imprudent moves by local BJP leaders might backfire on them and this is a season for self-goals, anyway.