5 Reasons Why Karnataka Elections Were a Trailer for 2019 Movie

“Whoever wins Karnataka loses India” is an electoral truism that got nixed as Karnataka threw a hung Assembly.

4 min read
Hindi Female

“Whoever wins Karnataka loses India” is an electoral truism that got nixed yesterday (15 May). It used to be almost as robust an indicator as “whoever wins Ohio wins America”. But nobody won Karnataka, thereby depriving us of the polls’ quick-fix predictive ability. By this yardstick then, 2019 is an open game, in uncharted territory!

But here are five key takeaways that have made the Karnataka elections a microcosm of what to expect in the general elections in 2019.


1) Modi Will Be India’s Strongest Political Leader, But His Wave Will Ebb

I know this assertion will outrage Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s fans, but the data points, unmistakably, to a diminishing electoral wave. I shall present only facts, without a single adjective, so even the bhakts (as Modi’s trolling devotees are colloquially called) will find it difficult to pick holes:

  • The prime minister virtually put himself on the Karnataka ballot, campaigning with the same intensity that he showed in 2014 (21 rallies in about a week), and is likely to repeat in 2019. So the weak data points cannot be parked at BS Yeddyurappa’s (BSY’s) doorstep.
  • Despite such a hectic outreach, “Modi’s 104” fell far short of “BSY’s 110” in the wave-less Assembly election of 2008. Can you still call yesterday’s outcome a “Modi wave”?
  • The comparison with Peak Modi, ie data of 2014 Lok Sabha polls, is even more revealing: the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP’s) vote-share fell by seven percentage points, from 43 percent to 36 percent; also, while Modi had clear lead in about 135 Assembly segments in 2014, he could pull in only 104 yesterday; and the BJP’s absolute votes, despite an increase in the number of first-time voters, fell from 13.3 mn to 13.1 mn (even as the Congress gained from 12.6 mn to 13.8 mn)! Would you still call it a wave?
  • Compared to 2008, BJP’s wins in Bengaluru, thought to be Modi’s die-hard urban constituency, fell from 19 to 11. Wave?

I shall move on without a comment here, to let the facts do their own talking.


2) Congress Will Gain Vote-Share, But Fall Far Short of Majority

That’s pretty much what will happen in 2019. The Congress is expected to get more votes in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Telangana and Assam versus what it notched up in 2014.

But in terms of parliamentary seats, the best it can hope for is a 3-digit number short of 150.

In order to form a government, it will have to do a deal with the regional parties, exactly as it pitched to Kumaraswamy’s Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka. Now whether the Congress is in position to lead this coalition, or become the junior partner in it, will depend on how close it manages to get to 150 seats.

3) Modi-Neutral Regional Parties Could Play It Both Ways

A few regional parties in India are “Modi neutral”, ie they can make a deal with either the BJP or the Congress, as is evident from the option Kumaraswamy has in Karnataka.

Other such “equidistant” regional operators are Telangana Rashtriya Samithi (TRS), YSR Congress, Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Shiv Sena, AIADMK, DMK, Janata Dal (United), Indian National Lok Dal, and a clutch of tiny outfits.

These shall have the best shot at being in the Union government, irrespective of whether it is a United Progressive Alliance (UPA) or National Democratic Alliance (NDA) or Third Front-led government that gets formed after 2019. To use a Hindi saying, “paanchon ungliyan ghee main” (all five fingers in the fat; certain gains).


4) Anti-Modi Regional Parties May Get to Play King or King-maker

A few regional parties will find it politically impossible to align behind Modi. These include the Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Biju Janata Dal (BJD), the Communists, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Trinamool Congress (TMC), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the AIUDF.

Their best bet would be a United Front like outcome in 1996, where a weak Congress is forced to prop up a regional chieftain-led Union government.

However, if the Congress was to come close to 150, then this gaggle will have to support a Rahul Gandhi-led government. In either option, they could play the King or King-maker. Of course, their default option would be to sit in the Opposition.

5) President Ram Nath Kovind Will Be in Governor Vajubhai Vala’s Shoes

Ultimately, it may boil down to President Ram Nath Kovind having to exercise his discretion in inviting either Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi or a regional chieftain to form the government, similar to the options before Governor Vajubhai Vala in Bengaluru. Which precedent will the President prefer? We shall have to wait until May 2019 to get an answer here.

Clearly, what happened in Karnataka yesterday is a trailer of the movie that will play out after the general elections next year.

Enjoy the show!

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