In Numbers: The BJP's Defeat In Karnataka And Its Main Takeaways
A closer look at the numbers reveals everything that went wrong for the BJP in Karnataka.
The Congress party’s stunning sweep in Karnataka has left a number of people wondering what exactly happened in these assembly elections?
As the results show, this is due to a mixed bag of reasons.
First, the Congress benefited from a comprehensive consolidation of the identity vote under its banner, largely at the cost of the Janata Dal (Secular), the JD(S).
This was bolstered by offerings of reckless welfarism which appear to have clicked well in seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
Second, the Congress gained significantly from a split in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) traditional core vote base — the Lingayat community which is concentrated in northern and central Karnataka.
As the table above shows, the Congress made major gains in the northern and central parts of the state, winning 42 seats which were held by the BJP.
This is on top of the 23 seats the Congress gained from the JD(S), 15 of which were in the latter’s bastion of old Mysore state in the south.
Third, the JD(S) also took advantage of the BJP’s disarray to make some gains, even as it disintegrated in the south.
As the table below shows, the JD(S) managed to hold on to just seven of the 26 seats it had in the Mysore region.
Yet, even as it withered in the south, the JD(S) gained one seat in Bombay Karnataka, one tribal seat in Hyderabad Karnataka, and, rather surprisingly, won 111-Shimoga Rural (reserved for Scheduled Castes) — all from the BJP.
Fourth, the fact that the JD(S), a party in terminal decline, was still able to win six seats from the BJP, shows just how badly the BJP was affected by the flux in its core vote base.
Fifth, one important fact lost in the BJP’s debacle is that it made significant gains into new areas and communities.
As the table above shows, the BJP gained seven seats in Hyderabad Karnataka, two of which had always been demographically challenging — Homnabad and Bidar South.
Similarly, the BJP made handsome gains in the Bengaluru region, gaining seven seats — five from the Congress, and two from the JD(S).
Its win in Mahalaxmi Layout is of particular political importance, since the BJP had not won this seat in the past three assembly elections.
Sixth, equally importantly, the BJP won secular firewall seats. Of the 77 seats which it had not won in three assembly elections since the delimitation of 2008, it won seven.
Their wins in Bidar South, Belur and Sakleshpur are highly significant, since the BJP failed to lead in these segments in the past three Lok Sabha elections as well.
Unfortunately, these excellent gains by the BJP were negated by the loss of Lingayat votes to the Congress in northern and central Karnataka.
Seventh, the bottom line is that while a consolidation of the identity vote took place under the Congress banner, a counter-consolidation of the civilisational vote under the BJP did not happen.
Also read: 'Karnataka 2023' and struggle for the 'civilisational vote'
In broad terms, this disarray is a function of a leadership change the BJP made in 2021, which ruptured the intricate linkages it had carefully nurtured within the Lingayat community.
The BJP also appears to have been hamstrung by last mile communication breakdown — with the grassroots cadre failing to highlight the considerable development which has been brought to the state, the benefits of central schemes, and the successes of a ‘double-engine sarkara’.
For proof, look at the losses the BJP suffered in its 22 firewall seats – the ones which it has won in the past three assembly elections: it lost seven of these to the Congress. 17-Saundatti Yellamma and19-Mudhol in Bombay Karnataka had stood with the party even during the debacle of 2013. So too, 80-Sirsi in the coastal region, and both the seats in Kodagu.
Of course, there is a school of thought which believes that the party would have fared far worse if the leadership change hadn’t been made, but done is done.
Rather than resort to reproach, it is more useful to understand this upheaval for what it is: growing pains, as the BJP seeks to expand its electoral base beyond the Lingayat community in the north, to others like the tribals, scheduled castes, and Vokkaligas in the centre and the south.
It is a bit like the 2017 assembly elections of Gujarat where, too, the BJP’s main vote base, the Patels, wavered slightly to pull the party down.
The BJP’s response to that was to overhaul the state unit, and recommence an aggressive expansion of its vote base. The result was a spectacular victory in the 2022 elections.
If the BJP can do the same in Karnataka, then it will undoubtedly revert to a strong growth phase, with improved communication and feedback loops, and organisational discipline.
If it doesn’t, then it will be forced to suffer a sorry truth: taking votes for granted and not enforcing periodic changes is a sure-fire recipe for disaster.
All data from Election Commission of India website; numbers are provisional.
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