Congress party supporters celebrate early leads for the party, May 13, 2023 (Photo: AP)
The Karnataka Assembly election saw Congress being swept back to office with a clear mandate on the back of a strong anti-incumbency wave against the Bharatiya Janata Party with popular anger over higher cost of cooking gas, inadequate price support for crops like sugarcane, areca and kitchen staples, and patchy governance scuttling the saffron party’s prospects.
The BJP slogan for a “double engine sarkara” (government) failed to cut ice with voters in the face of discontent over the state government’s lacklustre performance. The inauguration of marquee projects like the Bengaluru-Mysuru highway was eye-catching but the pinch of inflation cut deeper into the pockets of the common man including in rural areas where prices of farm inputs have risen sharply.
Congress’ missteps during the campaign, like promising a ban on Bajrang Dal (which the party quickly de-emphasised), and a misplaced reference to the state’s “sovereignty” did not cost the party dearly. And while the raising of Bajrangbali slogans by BJP may not have helped its cause, emotive issues might well have prevented a more severe meltdown.
The results point to Karnataka increasingly becoming a bipolar state with Janata Dal (S) slipping to a shade over 13% votes and barely crossing the 20 seats mark. BJP retained its 36% vote share, an indicator that Lingayats stuck with the party, but failed to make inroads in its waterloo in Old Mysuru while losing ground in central and north Karnataka to Congress. Interestingly enough, BJP did better in the Bengaluru urban area where it had done poorly in the 2018 state election.
BJP’s bid re-caliberate the caste matrix by hiking quotas for Vokkaligas by 2% simply failed to fly. There was poor awareness of the reservation move in the community and questions over its legal status in view of a challenge in the Supreme Court made things worse. Even the move to raise reservations for scheduled castes and tribes did not pay dividends as evident in Congress’ vote share rising from 38% to 42%. It is clear that price rise and everyday issues weighed more with the poor in this election.
Congress leader Siddaramaiah billed the party’s win as a victory of the party leadership over Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah’s numerous rallies in the state but the mandate confirms that the outgoing Basavaraj S Bommai government was facing serious anti-incumbency. Rocky and patchy governance, inflation and the lack of a convincing chief ministerial face dragged BJP down even as Modi’s high-voltage campaign might have prevented the party from sinking further.
Congress had published full-page advertisements in leading dailies listing the rise in prices of essentials including cooking gas, petrol, diesel and cooking oil as failures of BJP’s “double-engine government”. “They robbed the state. They robbed your savings. Double engine wrecks family budgets. Double engine is double droha (betrayal). Choose wisely,” the advertisement read.
While Congress leaders said the party won a clear majority on the back of a campaign against the Bommai government’s alleged corrupt practices–“40 per cent sarkara”—what was more relevant was the campaign being local and leveraging discontent at the ground level. In a tweet thanking AICC leaders, Siddaramaiah claimed that the “Bharat Jodo Yatra, led by Shri Rahul Gandhi, united the people of Karnataka & spread the idea of peace & harmony – an important factor that put our party in the path of victory.” As of 2 pm, party leaders said BJP was yet to win seats on the yatra’s route.
The scale of Congress’s victory makes it clear that BJP lagged Congress significantly across the state, barring some pockets. Congress had issued a separate manifesto for every region of the state and announced four social “guarantees”: 200 units of free power to all households under Gruha Jyoti, a monthly assistance of Rs 2,000 to the woman head of every family under Gruha Lakshmi, 10 kg rice free for every BPL household member under the party’s former flagship Anna Bhagya scheme and a monthly allowance of Rs 3,000 for unemployed graduates and Rs 1,500 for unemployed diploma holders under Yuva Nidhi.
The gains for Congress can be seen in areas like Kodagu, where it has ended a 20-year BJP winning streak with A S Ponnanna and Mantar Gowda defeating BJP candidates in Virajpet and Madikeri respectively.
BJP leader B S Yediyurappa, while accepting defeat and extending his wishes to Congress, said the verdict will have no impact on the Lok Sabha elections.