On the cusp of delivering a crushing defeat to the Congress in Karnataka Assembly election 2018, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Tuesday was on course to emerge as the largest single party in the state. But the 110-seat halfway mark of the 222 constituencies that went to the polls on Saturday was still eluding the party at the time of filing of this report. Elections to the remaining two seats will be held on May 28.
Interestingly, the Congress led the BJP in terms of vote share by over a percentage point. But, the BJP maximised its winnings in its areas of influence. If the Congress’ vote share was 38 per cent, the BJP's was 36.7 per cent.
The Janata Dal (Secular) proved that prophecies of its demise were premature. The JD(S) was on course to match its 2013 tally of 40 seats, and its vote share was 17.7 per cent, two percentage points less than in 2013. But, with BJP inching towards the majority mark, it seemed the JD (S) could have lost the opportunity to play the kingmaker.
Some of the ministers in the Siddaramaiah government were trailing, including the chief minister himself in one of the two seats in which he contested. He was trailing JD(S)'s G T Deve Gowda by over 27,000 votes in Chamundeshwari, and his defeat looked imminent. He was leading in Badami, the second seat that he contested, by 3,000 votes. The trend of some of the ministers losing suggested that there was anti-incumbency against individual legislators in the Siddaramaiah government, if not the government itself.
A Congress defeat in Karnataka would deal a blow to the hopes the party nurses to challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2019 Lok Sabha. The Congress would try to recover some lost ground for the final battle when the Assembly elections to Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram take place in November-December.
For the present, however, the Congress party stands decimated. It has been reduced to a party which rules in Punjab, Mizoram and Puducherry. And BJP chief Amit Shah looks on the brink of achieving his objective of a ‘Congress-mukt’ India. A Congress defeat would also punch holes in Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s ambitions of being the undisputed leader of a united Opposition to challenge Modi in 2019.
Importantly, the Congress, as also the rest of the Opposition, does not rule large swathes of India. The Opposition parties, since they do not rule key states, would find it difficult to raise funds that they desperately need to counter the BJP’s efficient electioneering machine for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
While the BJP credited Modi’s charismatic leadership for the win, it also became evident that the Congress’ efforts at the AHINDA consolidation failed. AHINDA is a Kannada acronym for the caste combination of tribals, minorities, Dalits and OBC communities. Large sections of the electorate looked at the Congress as a party with no vision for the future, blamed it for playing divisive caste politics. Its efforts at eating into BJP's Lingayat support base also failed.
The BJP under Modi was looked at by urban voters, and the relatively prosperous ones in rural areas, not only as a party that spoke of a united Hindutva identity but also one that had an overarching vision for India’s future – its unrealised promises on job generation and growth notwithstanding.