Understanding the Congress victory in Karnataka

May 28, 2023

Has the beginning of the end arrived; once again?

Understanding the Congress victory in Karnataka


he recent Karnataka election results, which saw the Congress party achieve a landslide victory at the expense of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have given renewed hope to those desperately looking for just such an opportunity. However, as a historian friend tersely reminded me, let us restrain our enthusiasm. Cast your mind back to 2015 when the BJP suffered a defeat in the state of Bihar, barely a year after assuming power at the Centre. Since then, the BJP has rebounded, securing a bigger majority in 2019, experiencing both wins and losses in subsequent state elections, all the while unleashing a relentless assault on democratic politics. Should we, then, perceive this as merely another occasional setback for a party that is deeply entrenched and seemingly impervious to dethronement?

In analysing these results, it is essential to consider three key factors. First, we must examine the context within the state itself; second, we should take into account recent national events that hold significance for both the state and the upcoming elections scheduled for next year; and third, we need to evaluate the ever-consolidating vote bank of the BJP, along with its pitfalls and the widely discussed “Modi charisma.”

Let’s begin by scrutinising the state-level outcomes. The magnitude of the Congress party’s victory and their absolute majority illustrate the extent of disenchantment among the state’s population. To such an extent that while the BJP maintained its percentage of votes, the rest of the electorate united to deliver a resounding defeat. Furthermore, even the BJP’s staunch caste vote bank of Lingayats witnessed a decline in numbers. Second, despite its relentless efforts to rekindle the spectre of anti-Muslim rhetoric in public discourse through measures such as the revival of the hijab ban and highlighting incidents of cow lynching, as well as Modi’s desperate calls for Bajrang Bali which openly invoke Hindu polarisation, these tactics proved ineffective. Third, the so-called wildcard, JD(S), was exposed for what it truly was—a vote splitter that ultimately served the interests of the opposition, resulting in a significant defeat for the party and benefiting the Congress. Lastly, the state-wide campaign conducted by the Congress, which targetred the BJP for its governance shortcomings and effectively popularised the slogan of the ‘forty percent cut,’ struck a chord with the public. This message, akin to the adhesive strength of Fevicol, remained firmly entrenched and refused to dissipate.

Shifting our focus to the national landscape, this point should also be examined in light of the recent Adani fiasco. Following the Hindenburg report, which caused an erosion of Adani’s wealth by more than half, it adds another dimension to the matter.

While the BJP maintained its percentage of votes, the rest of the electorate united to deliver a resounding defeat.

Despite a wide-ranging social media campaign attempting to portray Adani as a national benefactor, the regime couldn’t simply wish away the accusations of crony capitalism. Rahul Gandhi’s persistent reminders both in and outside the parliament, along with the massive public response to his Bharat Joro Yatra, resulted in his scandalous and unjust expulsion from the parliament. While this may have boosted the egos of BJP’s staunch supporters, it laid bare the level of threat the government is experiencing and its subsequent reactions.

At the time of Rahul Gandhi’s expulsion, the national media appeared largely unperturbed. However, the unmistakable footprint of his journey through the state and beyond became evident in the results of the Karnataka elections. Moreover, the BJP’s significant loss in the state highlights the party’s complete absence from the southern region. While this is not the first time such an outcome has occurred, it sends a powerful message. It signifies not only the emergence of a physically consolidated block aiming for a ‘BJP-mukt south India’ (as one commentator put it), but also indicates that if the northern region fails to improve its performance, the consolidation of southern opposition to the BJP may take on different dimensions.

Now, let’s address the lingering question surrounding the rhetoric of Modi’s charisma, which claims that people vote for local governments based on local issues but for the national government, they see Modi as the only alternative. This assertion carries a blatant lie, hidden in plain sight. For several years now, not only have most state elections but even local council elections across India been fought solely in the name of Modi. Chief ministers have been handpicked and dismissed at the whim of the emperor. Therefore, the blame for the loss must be placed squarely at the prime minister’s doorstep.

On the other hand, in cases where chief ministers have established their own distinct identity, such as in Uttar Pradesh and Assam, Modi has been unable to dislodge them. To suggest that the “TINA” (There is no alternative) factor will work again at the national level demands closer scrutiny and should be capitalised on by the opposition. Furthermore, there are other states awaiting elections in the coming months.

A troubling aspect of authoritarian and fascist politics lies in the fact that once you embark on the path of “othering” the vulnerable, you become addicted to fine-tuning your divisive tactics. This insatiable thirst drives you to constantly seek out new enemies and expel them. It doesn’t stop at targeting Muslims and Dalits; it extends to creating divisions between the north and the south, and it won’t halt there either.

This government initiated and spearheaded the campaign of ‘Beti bachao, beti parhao‘ (Save the girl child, educate the girl child), and Modi was regarded as a favourite among women voters. However, a group of female wrestlers who have won Olympic medals have been staging a protest in the heart of the capital for over a month. They are demanding action against a ruling party member of parliament, whom they accuse of being a serial sex offender. Despite court intervention, there has been a resounding silence from the entire establishment. Additionally, there have been social media campaigns aimed at vilifying these courageous women. It appears that the party is once again willing to sacrifice another significant portion of its voting support in pursuit of its ‘purer’ base. The question that arises is who will be left in the end to support them?

The writer, an independent researcher and writer, has been associated with social activism for many years

Understanding the Congress victory in Karnataka