Producers: Aditya Menon, Himanshi Dahiya
Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam
The Congress party on Saturday, 13 May registered a thumping victory in the 2023 Karnataka Assembly elections by winning 135 out of 224 seats in the state.
While the performance was largely credited to the party's efficient and localised campaign fronted by Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) President DK Shivakumar and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, the impact of Rahul Gandhi's Bharat Jodo Yatra was widely discussed.
One of longest legs of the Bharat Jodo Yatra — a journey of over 4,000 km spanning 150 days — was in Karnataka where Gandhi covered 511 km in 21 days.
The yatra travelled through seven districts and 20 Assembly constituencies in the state.
We have mapped these 20 constituencies based on the list provided by Congress leaders Jairam Ramesh and Ashok Gehlot.
Of these 20 constituencies, nine were won by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2018 Assembly elections, while six were won by the Janata Dal (Secular). In the recent elections, the Congress won five out of the nine seats previously held by the BJP, five out of six seats held by the JD(S), and retained five seats it won in the previous elections.
In total, it won 15 out of 20 Assembly constituencies which the Bharat Jodo Yatra covered. This includes Melukote Assembly constituency in Mandya district where it supported Darshan Puttannaiah from Sarvodaya Karnataka Paksha (SKP).
Let's look at these numbers in detail.
Data Shows a Direct Increase in Seat Share and Vote Share
In the 20 seats falling on the Bharat Jodo Yatra route, the Congress' tally increased from 5 in 2018 to 15. The BJP fell from nine to two and JD-S from six to three.
If we go seat-by-seat in the 20 constituencies directly on the Yatra route, the Congress vote share increased in all constituencies except for two.
In some constituencies such as Molakalmuru in Chitradurga district, the increase in vote share was as high as 32.01 percent. But a large part of this may have been due to the shift of the winning candidate.
There were, however, exceptions such as Challakere in Chitradurga district where even through the Congress won, its lost votes to independents.
Similarly, in Chamundeshwari, a JD(S) stronghold, the party lost votes to the BJP.
Even if we look at the districts covered by the Yatra, the Congress gained heavily in districts like Mandya, Mysuru, Tumakaru and Chitradurga.
It is possible that several other local and regional issues led to these numbers. The Bharat Jodo Yatra can and should be viewed as one of the many factors which led to the sweep.
At Whose Expense Did Congress Benefit?
So we added all the votes in the 20 seats that fell directly in the Bharat Jodo Yatra route and found that Congress' vote share in these seats put together had increased by 9.7 percentage points as opposed to an increase of 4.7 percentage points in all the seats in Karnataka.
The interesting part is that overall in these 20 seats, the Congress gained massively but the BJP didn't really lose much in terms of vote share. The BJP's vote share in these seats reduced by just 0.2 percentage points. BJP's overall vote share in Karnataka reduced by 0.4 percentage points.
In fact, in 10 out of 20 constituencies on the Yatra route, the BJP actually did better than last time.
Even in some of those where its vote share fell, it may have been due to local factors. In Bellary City for instance, it was Gali Janardhana Reddy's exit and not so much the Yatra that harmed BJP.
The increase in Congress' vote share in these areas seems to have been mostly at the expense of the JD-S.
The Congress' increase was most pronounced in constituencies previously held by the JD(S). These include seats like Molakalmuru, Melukote, Nagamangala, and Srirangapatna where the party gained 31.81, 7.16, 11.37 and 14.37 percentage points respectively.
In Tumakuru's Gubbi Assembly constituency, for instance, Congress' vote share went up by 28.82 percentage points. The JD(S), on the other hand, lost 8.88 percentage points. The BJP went up by 2.55 percentage points. The Congress' gain came from four-time MLA and JD(S) leader SR Srinivas joining the party ahead of the elections.
This trend of JD(S) losing votes to Congress is not exclusive to districts and constituencies covered by the yatra. It is in line with with what has been observed throughout the state.
What Worked for The Congress?
The Karnataka stretch was the longest leg of the over 4,000 km long Bharat Jodo Yatra. Results indicate that the Yatra was successful in mobilising party cadre. Rahul Gandhi was also able to establish a mass connect with voters and party workers.
Visuals of him addressing a rally amid heavy rains in Mysuru went viral on the internet.
Soon after the Karnataka victory, several Congress leaders including Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot, and Rajya Sabha MP and General Secretary (in-charge of Communications) Jairam Ramesh said that the yatra helped Congress' mobilise support on the ground.
However, the fact that the Yatra may have harmed the JD-S a great deal and didn't harm the BJP's vote share much, should come as a point of caution to the Congress.
This pattern may restrict the Congress' gains in states where there is a direct fight between it and the BJP.