Modi The Defeat in Karnataka Elections South Asia Times (

Modi: The Defeat in Karnataka Elections

Recently, Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were trounced in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly elections. The BJP could only bag 66 seats to the Congress’s 135 despite the fact that the BJP election campaign was conducted by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself. Karnataka is considered a very important state in the politics of India. It is the only state in South India (the others being Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh) that has a sizable pro-Hindutva sentiment. The fall of the BJP in Karnataka has made wealthy and educated South India a BJP-free zone.

In the long term, the North-South divide in India might attain significance as the rich South seethes over the fact that India is politically dominated by the relatively impoverished, uneducated, and jingoistic North.

The BJP’s defeat in Karnataka has given rise to several important questions. Why did the BJP lose and the Congress win? Does the BJP’s defeat in Karnataka herald a new era in Indian politics? Is Modi’s reign over India nearing its end? Should Pakistan be concerned that Modi will try to buoy his sinking popularity by making a move against Pakistan? I will attempt to answer all these questions objectively in this article.

Causes of the Defeat

First, let’s ponder over the causes of the BJP’s defeat. I will use some statistics as a guide in this quest. The BJP only won 66 seats but got 36% of the votes. Last time, in 2018, when the BJP emerged as the largest party in Karnataka with 104 seats, it received 36.3% of the votes. The forward castes and Lingayat—a Hindu religious sect with more than 10 million followers in Karnataka—have traditionally formed the core of the BJP’s voter base. They voted heavily for the BJP again. It appears that the BJP vote bank hasn’t changed much from the last elections. This means that Modi and the BJP still command significant popularity in Karnataka. So where did it all go wrong, then?

BJP (Seats) BJP (Votes) Congress (Seats) Congress (Votes) JD (Seats) JD (Votes)
2008 110 33.9 80 34.8 28 19.0
2013 40 19.9 122 36.6 40 20.2
2018 104 36.3 80 38.1 37 18.3
2023 66 36.0 135 42.9 19 13.3

The other two major parties in Karnataka are the Indian National Congress and the Janta Dal (Secular). Congress had managed to win 80 seats and 38.1% of the votes in 2018, whereas Janta Dal had won 37 seats and 18.3% of the votes. This time around, Congress got 42.9% of the votes, and Janta Dal only got 13.3%. It appears that the Congress chiefly won by attracting Janta Dal’s voters to its side and not by denting the BJP voter base.

Another interesting factor here is the “Muslim factor”. About 13–14% of Karnataka’s population are Muslims. Traditionally, the Muslim vote has been divided between Congress and other non-BJP options (Janta Dal, independent candidates). In 2018, about 65% of Muslims voted for Congress. This time, the Congress received 88% of Muslim votes. 23% of Muslim votes equal more than 3% of the total. So, 60% of the vote increase enjoyed by Congress in the recent elections can be attributed to the “Muslim factor”.

Here the question arises: why did the Muslims overwhelmingly vote for Congress?

To answer this, I will have to delve into some conjecture, but it appears that following the Hijab row in Karnataka (and the victory of BJP bigotry in that row), the Muslims of Karnataka realized the true extent of the Hindutva threat posed by the BJP. In their desperation, they turned to the only party that could defeat the BJP. The Congress has always enjoyed solid support in Karnataka and has ruled this state for much longer than any other party. Even in 2018, the Congress received 2% more votes than the BJP despite winning fewer seats. Basically, the Muslims only wanted the BJP to be defeated, and Congress (not the Junta Dal) appeared to be the best horse to bet on!

Oppositional Alternative

There were other reasons for the surge in Congress’s popularity, and Congress either gained or maintained its voter base among the people belonging to the scheduled castes as well. The BJP was justly lambasted by the Congress for poor governance, rising unemployment, and rampant inflation. The Congress dubbed the BJP government the “forty percent government” (a reference to the practice rife among BJP leaders and officials of taking a 40% bribe from contractors for state-funded infrastructure projects) and endlessly taunted its kleptocratic administration. The Congress also managed to counter Narendra Modi’s charisma by generating some of its own. Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra was successful in boosting his and Congress’s popular appeal.

Rahul Gandhi was successful in portraying himself as a secular alternative to Modi for those fed up with the BJP’s jingoism and incompetence.

In addition to the above, two more factors contributed to the BJP’s defeat. If we look at Karnataka’s electoral history, it appears that the people of this state exhibit the trait of anti-incumbency. In the last four elections, no party has won consecutive elections. The BJP won in 2008 and 2018, but the Congress won in 2013 and 2023.

Another important factor that benefited the Congress was that, unlike the BJP, it focused more on the local issues peculiar to Karnataka. BJP, on the other hand, ran the campaign on national issues like the propagation of Hindutva ideology (it even ran a promotional campaign for the rabidly anti-Muslim film “The Kerala Story”), “love jihad”, Modi’s achievements as Prime Minister, etc. This approach has cost the BJP in some previous state elections, and it did contribute to its defeat in Karnataka as well.

In summation, the BJP was bested by the Congress due to the Muslim factor, the BJP’s poor governance and corruption, Rahul Gandhi’s popular appeal following the Bharat Jodo Yatra, the anti-incumbency sentiment in Karnataka, and the Congress’s strategy of running a campaign on local issues.

Modi: The Endearing Populist

But does the Karnataka defeat indicate the ebb of the tide of Modi’s populism? It doesn’t appear so. Despite all the above-mentioned factors going against the BJP, it managed to maintain its voter base (unlike in 2013, when its vote share was halved after a lackluster performance). This is due in large part to Narendra Modi’s charisma and Hindutva’s surging appeal among Indian Hindu youth.

In 2018, the BJP won 104 out of 224 seats (46%), but just a year later, it won 25 out of 28 seats (89%) in the national elections for Lok Sabha in Karnataka. It is a known fact that the BJP campaigns on national issues in both state and national elections. This strategy results in a below-par performance for the BJP in state elections but has paid huge dividends in national elections. Many voters prefer to vote for regional parties in state elections but choose Modi and the BJP in national elections.

The only way opposition parties can unseat Modi is for them to join hands in a well-coordinated campaign.

Modi’s popularity hasn’t waned, and his support base is not only intact but steadily growing in some areas (especially in North and West India). Modi can only be defeated by applying the key Karnataka lesson: all the anti-Modi votes need to be pooled into one big pot for the opposition to have a chance of victory.

Thinking along these lines, Modi’s nemesis in West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, immediately declared after the Karnataka elections that she was ready to collaborate with the Congress to unseat Modi in the national elections next year. But Mamata Banerjee made some other interesting arguments as well. She recommended that a united opposition should award more tickets to candidates who are well-rooted in their own region.

A major reason behind the opposition disunity in India is Congress’s insistence on treating itself as a national party and, hence, considering itself superior to regional players like Mamata Bannerjee’s Trinamool Congress in West Bengal or the Aam Admi Party (AAP) in Delhi and Punjab. In order to defeat Modi, Congress will have to stoop to conquer. It will have to abandon its pretensions of superiority and become a part of an opposition alliance of equals.

If the opposition leaders can come up with a simple anti-Modi narrative, set aside their egos for some time, and award tickets on the sole criteria of a candidate’s chance of victory regardless of his party affiliation, then they can hope to defeat Modi next year. Even if they manage to do this, such is Modi’s popularity in India right now that they still might be defeated. But if they don’t do this, they will undoubtedly lose by a significant margin.

Implications for Pakistan

Lastly, the implications of Modi’s defeat in Karnataka for Pakistan need to be examined. Bashing Pakistan and showing himself as a strongman who isn’t afraid to “teach Pakistan a lesson” has worked for Modi in the past. Modi even gained popularity after the Pulwama and Abhinandan fiascos before the last national elections in 2019. It isn’t difficult to imagine how much popularity he would have gained had India shot down and captured a Pakistani pilot. It all depends on Narendra Modi.

If he deems the Karnataka defeat as nothing more than a momentary hiccup, then he might not be too eager to attempt an adventure against Pakistan.

State elections in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, to be held in November and December 2023, are also important. If Modi loses both, an adventure against Pakistan is more likely before the national elections. Sadly, Pakistan seems to be at war with itself. The raging conflict between the country’s most popular political party and the military is a recipe for disaster.

Weakness always invites aggression. Pakistan’s current situation makes it a weak adversary and an attractive target for an unscrupulous tyrant like Modi. Pakistan cannot afford a war right now, and it is best to deter the enemy from forcing one on us. Thus, it is imperative for us to get our house in order quickly. Our national unity will be a bigger deterrent than our nuclear weapons.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the South Asia Times.

Dr. Syed Hassaan Bokhari

Dr. Hassan Bokhari, a professional with expertise in medicine, history, and research, offers a unique perspective shaped by his passion for history and contemporary affairs. He can be reached on X @SHBokhari13.

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