Modi humbled in Karnataka

ByFahad Ali

Associated with maritime trade


June 1, 2023

Modi Humbled In Karnataka

Fahad Ali discusses a serious setback suffered by Narendra Modi

Modi Humbled In Karnataka – After Aam Aaadmi Party (AAP) making inroads in the hegemonic control exercised by PM Modi on the political landscape of India, India’s main opposition, Congress party has started to regain its electoral strength that it had badly lost to the extreme rightwing BJP. 2024 is the national election year in India and getting beaten so close to it in one of the crucial states is certainly a bad omen for Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Congress party wrested control of the crucial southern Karnataka state from Modi’s Hindu nationalist party after a near complete vote count that boosted its prospects ahead of national elections. With vote counting continuing, India’s Election Commission said the Congress had crossed the majority mark of 113 in the state assembly by winning 123 seats and leading in 12 other constituencies. Modi’s party won or was leading in 64 seats with another regional party, the Janata Dal (Secular) landing with 20 seats. Karnataka is one of the wealthiest states in India with a population of well over 60 million people and its capital Bengaluru is India’s technical hub. The election in Karnataka was the first of five crucial state polls this year. They are seen as an indicator of voter sentiment ahead of national elections next year. Karnataka is the second state Modi’s party has lost to the Congress in the last six months. In December, the Congress unseated BJP in northern Himachal Pradesh, a small state tucked in the Himalaya mountain range.

Karnataka was the only southern state where the Hindu nationalist grouping led by the BJP held power. According to the 2011 census, India’s most recent, 84% of Karnataka’s people were Hindu, almost 13% Muslim and less than 2% Christian. The BJP fell short of a majority in the last state election in Karnataka in 2018 but it assumed power a year later allegedly by persuading members of the ruling coalition to defect. The BJP had been in power in Karnataka since 2018 and campaigned hard to hold on to the state despite a strong anti-incumbency sentiment. BJP’s tenuous hold on Karnataka was viewed as a crucial stepping stone for its political ambitions in the nearby states of Telangana and Tamil Nadu which have so far largely resisted the Hindu nationalist politics of the BJP. In an attempt to win over voters, Modi spearheaded the campaign taking part in nine rallies and road-shows in the final weeks of campaigning. However, despite a high-octane campaign during which the BJP held more than 9,000 rallies, Modi’s popularity was not enough to overcome allegations of corruption against the BJP state government as well as frustrations over rising inflation and a lack of job creation outside the city’s thriving capital, Bengaluru. The state’s dominant Lingayat caste, once a strong part of the BJP’s base, had also been seen to withdraw support after several old-guard leaders were not given tickets to run.

Initially, Modi’s party promised to spur development and wooed voters with social welfare measures. However, in the lead-up to the polls it veered toward Hindu nationalism, its usual playbook campaign and accused the Congress of disregarding Hindu values and appeasing minority groups, particularly Muslims. It also scrapped a 4% reservation in job and education quotas for Muslims and distributed them to two Hindu caste groups. The party had mounted a major campaign in the state with Modi himself visiting to promote its muscular brand of Hindu politics. At one of his rallies, Modi praised an incendiary new film that wildly exaggerates the number of Hindu women converting to Islam and joining the Islamic State jihadist group. Modi — who is widely expected to stand again in the 2024 general election — also attempted to woo Hindu majority voters by chanting an ode to the monkey god Hanuman. Over the past couple of years, Modi’s party had been trying to maximise gains in Karnataka, where communal polarisation between majority Hindus and minority Muslims has deepened after BJP leaders and supporters banned girls from wearing headscarf as part of their school uniform. However, unlike in north India, the BJP’s attempts to use religious polarisation to mobilise the Hindu majority proved relatively unsuccessful, except in the coastal areas of the state, where right-wing Hindu nationalist elements had been particularly proactive under their recent government.

The defeat in Karnataka means Modi’s party, which was banking on his popularity, has lost its toehold in the south where its strident Hindu nationalist politics had found relatively slower reception than the rest of the country. Over the past several weeks, Modi had campaigned aggressively in Karnataka and crisscrossed the state by holding huge road-shows. Analysts say that the BJP, that governed Karnataka for four years, faced strong anti-incumbency sentiment. Its tenure was marked by internal squabbles and allegations of poor governance. Party leaders also mostly focused on the achievements of Modi’s federal government in their speeches. It was mentioned that Modi had staked his own personal charisma and credibility to try and revive the party from anti-incumbency but that did not seem to work at the level that he would have expected.

The results show that the Congress was able to put its differences aside and come together to fight the election and the results are expected to energise the largely divided opposition that is banking on forming a united front to challenge Modi in next year’s general election in which he will seek to extend his prime ministership for a third consecutive term. The election result will also help the prospects of the Congress party that was routed by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in the last two national polls and is striving to regain its political prominence nationwide. It was pointed out that election campaign was fought on local issues and the Congress built its campaign by targeting Modi’s party over rising inflation, allegations of corruption and poor infrastructure development in the state, while promising electricity subsidies, rations to poor families, and financial assistance to unemployed graduates. The polls were also seen as yet another faceoff between Modi and Rahul Gandhi who was convicted of making defamatory remarks about the prime minister’s last name during an election rally in 2019. It led to Gandhi’s ouster from Parliament in March and he risks losing his eligibility to run in elections for the next eight years if a court does not overturn his conviction. Late last year, Gandhi set on a 3,500-kilometer walking tour of Indian cities towns and villages to rejuvenate the party and win the people’s support.

Congress campaigned hard on secularism, giveaways of free electricity and rice for the poor and accusations of BJP corruption. However, some analysts are of the view that the Karnataka result may have limited impact on next year’s polls at which the BJP is widely expected to secure a third consecutive victory. The result was a major triumph for Congress which has had an otherwise poor record of winning state elections since Modi came to power in 2014 with only three other states under its control before adding the fourth state, Karnataka, to its tally. The win provides it a much-needed boost before the general election when it will go up against the BJP on a national level. Congress, which admits it cannot defeat the BJP on its own, is pushing for an opposition coalition – and the win in Karnataka will put it in a stronger position to make a deal with other parties. The Weekender


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