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Advantage Congress: Exit Polls in Karnataka Show BJP's 'Double Engine' Faltering

CM Bommai is no magician. We know that, right? Turns out that PM Modi is not one either.

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Exit polls should always come with health warnings as psephologists can go horribly wrong in their methodology as well as surveys. But, having said that, it should be a case of failure of modern election science itself, and not just any individual psephologist, if the Indian National Congress is not able to install a chief minister in Karnataka this month.

Three of the most credible pollster agencies with solid track records, that is, Axis MyIndia, Today's Chanakya, and CVoter have more or less predicted a victory on their own for the Congress over the BJP if not a clean sweep.

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'40 Percent Sarkar'

So what can we attribute this to? If the mood in Bangalore last weekend was any indication, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 26-km-long road show in the southern state was a juggernaut of sorts, and it was him all over the campaign as flower petals and rhetoric flowed with equal ease. But a late swing can rarely capture a full match, and it seems there was a lot in the air for an Advantage Congress situation that could not be undone so easily.

The voter turnout, estimated close to a high 75 percent, typically suggests an anti-incumbency mood, and it was clear that Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai was at the receiving end of allegations and accusations of administrative failure in the state including the charge of a "PayCM" government or a "40 percent sarkar" tag on the BJP, whose two big walking legs in any election campaign are a fight against corruption and the saffron flag of Hindutva reluctantly flying under the national tricolor.

Exit polls suggest that the Mangalore coastal belt, home to Lord Sri Krishna's Udupi temple and much else with resonates with Hindu culture combined with a wariness towards Islam, remains still a BJP bastion.

But a 40 percent vote share in the overall state numbers suggests that 40 turned out to be an unlucky number for the BJP. Even chanting 40 shlokas to Lord Hanuman to counter the Congress's hinted ban on Bajrang Dal named after the Hindu deity does not seem to have worked.

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What Happened to the PM + CM Formula?

But most glaring of all is the BJP's gradual backpedaling of its pet "Double Engine" theme that it usually puts forth in state assembly elections. The "PM plus CM" formula that worked like a charm in Uttar Pradesh was more of a boomerang in Karnataka. This could be seen in the loud silence on Bommai as an individual leader in much of the BJP's campaign in the late phase of the election campaign.

As in a Sherlock Holmes tale, this was the "Dog that did not bark" clue to solving a political mystery. Both as an orator and administrator, Bommai who ruled for less than two years, clearly fell short of BJP's hallmark mix of posturing, administrative panache, and rhetorical speeches.

To be fair to Bommai, he was like a batsman coming into the crease in a cricket game after a collapse of the top order.  He was the state's third chief minister in five years.

Corruption-tainted B.S. Yeddyurappa, Bommai's fellow Lingayat community leader, served in two spells since 2018. Janata Dal (Secular) party's H.D. Kumaraswamy came to bat in the middle in a shaky coalition raj before BJP was forced to go on its own. You could say the BJP's decline was a chronicle of a fall foretold unless some leadership gambit pulled a rabbit out of a hat. 

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Is Hindutva Going to Hit a Brick Wall?

But Bommai is no magician. We know that, right? Turns out that PM Modi is not either.

As I argued in a recent piece for The Quint, the BJP's pet theme of mixing Modi's persona, Hindutva and big-ticket infrastructure has less weight in the South where the "Dravida model" that works on caste equations, job quotas, and welfare handouts work a lot more. This plus the failure of its own 'we-fight-corruption' tag has evidently helped the Congress, whose organisational machinery in Karnataka is far more energetic and efficient than the party's regional units in much of India.

We will await further details including the shape of the next administration. But there is every reason to believe that Karnataka is where the Hindutva's southern journey begins to hit a big brick wall.

(The writer is a senior journalist and commentator who has worked for Reuters, Economic Times, Business Standard, and Hindustan Times. He can be reached on Twitter @madversity. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(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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