Message from Karnataka: Modi is Invincible, But BJP is Vulnerable

Should we read too much into results of local body elections? Yes, if its broad message tallies with other messages.

4 min read
Without brand Modi on the ballot, the BJP clearly looked vulnerable in several elections.

Should we read too much into the results of urban local body elections in a state? Yes, if the broad message coming out of them tallies with several other messages.

Less than a month after the Lok Sabha elections, the people of Karnataka voted to elect their representatives for urban local bodies.

Of the total of 22 local bodies that went to the polls, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could win a majority in just two districts of Dakshin Kannada and Gadab, according to the information available at the Karnataka state election commission website.

Of the total of 1,361 seats on offer, the Congress won 562 and its ally, the JD(S), another 202 seats. The two parties had contested the elections separately this time. They had contested the Lok Sabha elections in alliance. The BJP, on the other hand, could win less than one-third of the total seats.

Even in Shivamogga, which is considered BJP strongman and former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa’s bastion, the party could win only 36 (same as the Congress) out of the total of 94 seats. And this after a record- breaking performance in the Lok Sabha elections, when the party had won all but three seats, only a few weeks ago!

What do the two completely different results suggest?

The most important message is that while brand Modi continues to remain invincible thus far, the BJP does not quite enjoy the same consistency even in its stronghold like Karnataka.

Since the Lok Sabha elections were all about the re-election of Narendra Modi, people overwhelmingly voted for him, ignoring all other considerations. They ignored the local candidates, their track record and existing social equations. However, the moment other mundane issues begin to weigh on people’s mind, they tend to vote differently, even if that means going against the BJP.


Results of Karnataka Local Body Polls Continuation of the Trend Witnessed Prior to the Lok Sabha Elections?

Is this a one-off in the series of recent election results? Not quite.

Without brand Modi on the ballot, the BJP clearly looked vulnerable; not just in assembly elections in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh apart from scores of others, but also in Lok Sabha by-elections for Kairana, Phulpur, Gorakhpur and Araria, among others.

Long-term trend suggests the same. Of all the assembly elections that took place between 2014-2018, the BJP won 1178 seats by securing nearly 10.5 crore votes. The Congress, on the other hand, won 859 seats and secured 8.4 crore votes.

The data shows that the BJP is not as formidable as it appears to be and the Congress is not down and out yet. And the BJP-Congress contest is not as one-sided as it is made out to be. It is safe to assume that the difference between the two parties perhaps is the power of brand Modi that gives a decisive edge to the BJP.


Brand Modi Nullified All Seeming Contradictions

It is brand Modi that tuned conventional wisdom on its head and managed irreconcilable contractions to its advantage. How else can you explain:

  1. The sections – Dalits and OBCs – that voted for the BJP the most are the ones that are seen to be at the receiving end of the saffron party’s Hindutva ideology. Despite reports of growing atrocities against Dalits and relative marginalisation of OBCs, they embraced Hindutva. Signs of growing polarisation, aided and abetted by constant campaign to that effect?
  2. Electorates wedded to the power of ballot voting for extreme centralisation of power? There is no denying that the BJP workers were in constant dialogue with the people – taking feedback, shaping aspirations and supporting them when required. In that sense, the BJP turned to be the beneficiary of participative democracy. But it defies logic as to why people are ever so willing to support tendencies that may not be very democratic.
  3. Despite reports of rural distress, growing unemployment and depressed consumption growth because of faltering economy, the seemingly most vulnerable sections showed their preference for brand Modi over everyone else. The dream of an elusive achhe din triumphing over grim existential reality perhaps?
  4. In the midst of rising regional aspirations as several data points indicate, the people reposed faith in a grand narrative built around Hindi and Hindutva. How can they peacefully co-exist?

All these seeming contractions worked in favour of brand Modi. Can the same be said about the BJP? The results of urban local body elections in Karnataka, and many others elsewhere, suggest that is not the case. This is precisely the opening parties in opposition can try and exploit.

With three crucial assembly elections coming up later this year in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand, the parties in opposition can attempt to convert some of the contradictions listed above in their favour. The challenge is daunting. But the parties in opposition can take solace from the fact that with no direct involvement of brand Modi in these elections, there is going to be some sort of level playing field.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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