With a razor thin victory margin in Gujarat and a comfortable win in Himachal for the BJP, can the same strategy work in Karnataka?

In Gujarat Himachal results lessons for BJP and Congress ahead of Karnataka polls
news Analysis Monday, December 18, 2017 - 18:38

The electoral battle in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat went down to the wire, as the BJP emerged victorious with a razor-thin margin. Unlike in Gujarat, where the party failed to live up to expectations, the BJP managed to win comfortably in the hill state of Himachal Pradesh.

While the saffron party retained power in Gujarat for the sixth consecutive time, in Himachal the BJP displaced the ruling Congress, riding on the anti-incumbency wave.  

With Monday’s victories, the BJP under the stewardship of its national president Amit Shah and PM Narendra Modi has managed to win elections in seven states singlehandedly— Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Assam, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. They have lost Delhi and Punjab.

In Goa, they formed the government with the help of allies even after finishing second to Congress.

In Jammu and Kashmir and Bihar (after a reshuffle), they are part of the ruling coalition.

The focus now shifts to Karnataka, one of few remaining Congress-ruled states in the country, which is set to go to polls in less than six months.

“Today Gujarat, tomorrow Karnataka,” shouted BJP cadres at the party’s Bengaluru office in Malleshwaram. But celebrations were more subdued on Monday compared to past electoral wins.  

Speaking on the party’s victory in the two states, former Chief Minister and Leader of Opposition in the Karnataka Assembly, Jagadish Shettar told TNM, “There is unrest in the Congress because the whole country is now with the BJP. There is ‘Congress greed rule’ in a few states and in the future, the lotus will bloom in these states as well. The Gujarat election will have a huge impact on the upcoming polls here as well.”

BJP’s National General Secretary, P Muralidhar Rao, who is closely monitoring the party’s campaigning in Karnataka, emphasises, “The people still have faith in Narendra Modi. We are heading towards a Congress-free country. This election will have a huge impact on voter behaviour in Karnataka too.”

Lessons for BJP and Congress  

But while analysing Monday’s election results, political observers point out that the devil is in the details.  

“The headline is that BJP has retained its state and wrested a state. But if you go into the finer detail, there are lessons for both the parties, For the BJP, it is whether they can rely just on their central leadership and the PM’s charisma to win elections after elections without strong leadership on the ground,” noted senior political scientist Sandeep Shastri, expressing doubt whether the same strategy will be effective in Karnataka.

As far as Congress is concerned, Sandeep points out that the party needs prominent and viable candidates.

Narendra Pani, political scientist and professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies points to the major takeaways from Monday’s results. “I think this is a statement. Considering the Prime Minister campaigned so extensively, the margin of victory is not very pleasing for the BJP,” he says.  

The JD(S) factor

When asked about how the results will impact the Karnataka polls, Narendra says, “To summarise, the Congress has more reasons to be happy than the BJP with these results. The PM invoked Gujarati sub-nationalism in the last round of rallies which worked in its favour. But here, when it comes to that (sub-nationalism) issue, the JD (S) and the Congress will have the edge.”

The Siddaramaiah-led Congress government has in the recent past taken a decisive stand on emotive issues such as Hindi imposition or a separate state flag, thereby putting the Opposition BJP in the backfoot.

The professor also observes that that the presence of the JD(S) as a third alternative will also have a strong role to play in the Assembly Elections.

“People always underestimate the JD(S). I am not saying that they will come to power but remember they came second last time,” Narendra explained.

Meanwhile, the ruling Congress in Karnataka appeared confident despite the electoral defeats in the two battleground states. Former journalist and media advisor to CM Siddaramaiah, Dinesh Amin Mattu says, “In one line, this is a defeat in victory for the BJP and victory in defeat for the Congress.”

Pointing to BJP’s extensive campaign in Gujarat, Dinesh explains, “Never in the past has it happened that the whole cabinet has gone to campaign for a state election. No PM has gone to campaign for state polls so extensively. Despite all this, they could not retain their previous numbers.”

He also notes, “Another takeaway of this elections is that now people have to take Rahul Gandhi seriously.”

Speaking with TV reporters in Yadgir, CM SIddaramaiah said, “We have both won and lost in Gujarat. Rahul Gandhi has got the people’s following and support. This election will not affect Karnataka. The BJP is dreaming.”

The CM also discounted the PM Modi and Amit Shah factor in the coming elections, confidently stating, “Amit Shah and Modi will have no impact here. We will win the upcoming elections and come to power once more. In this Gujarat election, it is evident that Modi’s popularity has gone down. If Modi has full support, the Congress could not have won a single seat. But look what happened.”

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