The Karnataka elections have gone down to the wire and the final numbers are still not clear. The BJP has clearly emerged as the single largest party but is 6 to 9 seats short of the majority mark.
This is a clear victory for the party, but the fact that there is no clear majority has led to the Congress reaching out to the Janata Dal (Secular) to form a government, and hence thwart the BJP’s attempt to come to power.
This is an ideal situation for the JD(S), which has now got a desperate Congress’ unconditional support to form the government. The Congress had earlier run a campaign attacking the JD(S), and even Deve Gowda and Kumaraswamy. Siddaramiah, who left the JD(S) to join the Congress in 2006, has a long personal rivalry with Deve Gowda. This is why the offer from the Congress is a sweet victory for the JD(S).
But it’s important to remember that in 2008, the first time the BJP came to power on it’s own in the state, it had fallen two seats short of a majority, but managed to retain power through a full five years, albeit with three different Chief Ministers.
A Crushing Blow to Siddaramaiah
So, it would be unwise to underestimate the BJP's ability to garner numbers in this situation. However, even if the JD(S) forms a government with the Congress, it is likely to be an unstable arrangement and the BJP would look at finding ways to pull it down. Such a coalition would also mean subversion of the popular mandate. Unfortunately, electoral politics is not about right or wrong, but about how to capture power, and the BJP too has used similar tactics in the past, recently in Goa.
Against this back drop, with the red herring that the numbers game is not over till it's over, here are ten key takeaways:
- Siddaramaih's political career is all but over. Congress leaders in the state, opposed to the outgoing chief minister, have already drawn their daggers and begun blaming him for the party’s performance. So, Siddaramaiah, the Congress’ star till 14 May, may have to walk into the sunset all alone. Adding insult to injury is the fact that he has lost in the Chamundeshwari seat to GT Deve Gowda, the JD(S) candidate who shares the same name as his party supremo HD Deve Gowda. In Badami, the other seat that he contested in Hyderabad Karnataka, he managed to scrape through. So, in effect, he has lost it all in this election except from the fact that his son S Yatheendra won from the Varuna constituency.
BJP Wakes Up to a New Sunrise
- BS Yeddyurappa has survived the ‘corruption taint’ and at the ripe age of 75, is likely to return to the helm of affairs in Karnataka. He has proved that he is still a formidable political force in the state, and though he is not as strong as he was when he took the BJP to power for the first time in 2008, he remains the party’s strongest leader in Karnataka. So, as Siddaramaiah walks into the sunset alone, Yeddyurappa will wake up to a sunrise, fully refreshed. The only thing that can derail him now is a possible Congress-JD(S) tie-up, but even if that happens, it will only be a temporary setback.
- The Congress will find it difficult to recover from this defeat. Its hopes of emerging as a central force around which all other regional parties could unite to form an anti-BJP front, have been destroyed. Further, the party's attempts at uniting forces like the Telugu Desam Party, the Left and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu to form a southern front against the BJP will become a non-starter.
- Given the situation the Congress finds itself in nationally, it will have to learn to accept the role and importance of regional parties. One criticism of the Congress’s strategy in Karnataka is about the way it alienated the Janata Dal (S) and personally took on HD Deve Gowda. In retrospect, it might have been prudent to have a tacit understanding with the JDS(S), if not an open alliance.
- The vote shares of the Congress and the BJP are neck and neck, and it may not be a surprise if the BJP gets a lesser vote share than the Congress. In 2008, the BJP won more seats, but had two percent lesser vote share than the Congress. This is because the BJP has its votes coming in from specific regions and the Congress gets its from all over the state. The fact is that the BJP seems to have run a sharp and focused strategy and has taken away seats where the battle was close. This again proves that elections are as much about campaign speeches as they are about voter mobilisation in seats where it matters the most.
- The results also indicate that while the BJP swept its strongholds in districts that were part of Mumbai Karnataka and Coastal Karnataka, it defeated the Congress in Hyderabad Karanataka fair and square. This is the region where the infamous Ballari Reddy brothers and B Sriramulu dominate, and these results will ensure that they have a strong say in the party and government. It is believed that Sriramulu may even be made Deputy Chief Minister.
- Karnataka is the only South Indian state where the BJP has won an assembly election in the past, in 2008. Winning it for the second time will establish the party firmly in the southern landscape. This is a symbolic victory, that the BJP can win even if linguistic pride and other issues are drummed up against it. Further, it can now set its sights firmly on building itself in neighboring Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
- BJP had also botched up its government last time around and Yeddyurappa had to step down due to serious charges of corruption. Having shown that it has fully recovered from its 2008 experience, it will now begin to build its base across the state and expand its presence.
- This sounds the bugle for 2019 and gives the BJP a shot in the arm as it heads into the national election. While an assembly election is no indication of results in a parliamentary election, the victory gives the BJP renewed momentum – especially, at a time when Modi has faced severe criticism on several fronts including his handling of the economy.
- The Congress needs to rebuild its base in Karnataka, and project a younger leadership. It still has the numbers to play the role of a powerful opposition party and should work towards building a future leadership. Reinventing itself at the national level with a stronger narrative to counter the BJP is essential for the Congress.
(The writer is an independent journalist. He can be reached @TMVRaghav . This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)