Journalist: Fatima Khan
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The Congress has swept the Karnataka elections and while many pollsters called a hung election, this had evidently turned out to be clear verdict in favor of the party. The Quint was on the ground covering Karnataka elections very closely and here are the 5 reasons that led to the Congress’ win and BJP’s defeat.
Localised Election Campaign
The Congress party led a highly localised campaign in the run up to the elections in the state— focusing on issues of corruption and price rise, both issues that had captured the imagination of the electorate months ahead of the polling. For instance, even the Karnataka State Contractors’ Association, which has usually been an apolitical body had alleged that contractors had to shell out 40 per cent commission for several projects to the members of the ruling BJP. The Congress, in its subsequent campaigning, led with the ‘40 Percent Sarkara’ slogan, one that became fairly commonplace among the voters as elections neared.
The party also steered clear of attacking the BJP on national issues, and rarely ever attacked PM Modi directly. This is similar to the tactic employed by the party in Himachal Pradesh last year, where focusing strictly on local concerns led the party to victory.
Impactful Social Engineering
In a state with several castes and sub-castes, as well as a significant Muslim population, the Congress was able to successfully manage the support across various groups. As per the India Today Axis My India exit poll, the Congress party’s support among Scheduled Castes increased from 46 per cent in 2018 to 60 per cent this year. 88 per cent Muslims solidly backed the Congress, as per the exit poll. The Congress benefited from the dwindling support of the BJP among the Lingayat community—one that has traditionally backed the party. That combined with the continued emphasis on AHINDA helped the party significantly.
Strong Local Leadership
Arguably, the Congress’ biggest strength in Karnataka is a strong local leadership, with each leader leveraging their unique skills. Former CM Siddaramaiah’s revival of AHINDA— Kannada acronym for Alpasankhyataru (minorities), Hindulidavaru (backward classes), and Dalitaru (Dalits) — continues to have resonance among the masses.
DK Shivakumar’s growing popularity among the youth, the fact that he backed and campaigned for several Congress candidates, and his pragmatic political maneuvering also played an important role.
The elevation of Mallikarjun Kharge, who had been an MLA from Karnataka’s Gurmitkal for a record 37 years, to the post of national president of the Congress was also of relevance. Kharge campaigned closely this election cycle, spending many months ahead of the polls in the state— despite now being a national level leader. While both Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi did campaign in the state, much of the heavy lifting in the state was done by the local leadership.
Threw Infighting To The Wayside
The strong local leadership, however, could very well have been a sticking point given the fact that Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar are both in the running for the coveted post of Karnataka Chief Minister. Many speculated that this will inevitably result in the two leaders falling out publicly, thus leading to a significant advantage for the BJP.
However, the Congress leadership managed to hold it together, with both Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah campaigning together. In the last week, when rumors emerged that the two may be heading towards an embittered infighting in the countdown to the polling, Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah sat down for a conversation that was recorded and put on all Congress platforms.
The two discussed Congress’ campaigning, looking back on how the election cycle went. Even if much of this camaraderie was for show, and things may change once it comes to deciding who will actually become CM, the fact that the two were able to hold it together before the state went for polls held the party in good stead.
Besides everything that Congress got right, it is, of course, BJP’s own lapses that served to benefit the opposition too. For one, BJP lacked a strong local leadership after B. S. Yediyurappa’s exit from the CM post. CM Bommai, despite also being a Lingayat, didn’t enjoy nearly as much popularity as his predecessor.
The party then bungled up the Lingayat reservation demands, and their last minute removal of the Muslim reservation to appease the Lingayats and Vokkaligas failed to really convince anyone.
The corruption allegations against the BJP and the ‘40 per cent Sarkara’ slogan also really stuck a chord with the people of Karnataka and benefitted the Congress hugely. Finally, the BJP’s desperation was visible when in the last 10 odd days the state saw several rallies and road shows by PM Modi, the use of Bajrang Bali as a narrative to hit out at Congress’ manifesto promise of banning the Bajrang Dal, raking up the Tipu Sultan issue, none of these ultimately worked for the party, indirectly benefitting the Congress.