Supporters waving Congress flags in key Karnataka state assembly elections. Source: Economic Times. - Photo: 2023

India: PM Modi’s BJP Ousted in Key Karnataka State Elections

By Devinder Kumar

NEW DELHI, 17 May 2023 (IDN) — The opposition Indian National Congress (INC), which appeared to have sunk into oblivion, scored a decisive victory in the southern state of Karnataka over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the legislative assembly elections on 10 May.

Karnataka is the second state the BJP has lost in the last six months. In December 2022, the INC overthrew the BJP in northern Himachal Pradesh in December 2022. Although regional losses may not have a direct bearing on the 2024 general elections in 2024, they serve as a cautionary tale for a party that has continuously relied on Modi as its key campaigner.

In the key state, Narendra Modi personally led the BJP’s arduous campaign in Karnataka, which is a major economic powerhouse in India with a population of 64 million people, including Bengaluru, the world’s largest tech hub. The BJP ruled it as the only state in the south.

Results declared on 13 May show that the INC, also known as the Congress, has bagged 136 out of 224 seats in Karnataka’s state assembly, against the BJP’s just 66.

In the 17 general elections since independence in 1947, Congress has won an outright majority on seven occasions and has led the ruling coalition a further three times, heading the central government for more than 54 years. There have been six Prime Ministers from the Congress party, the first being Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (1947–1964), and the most recent Dr Manmohan Singh (2004–2014).

“BJP’s myth of invincibility has been shattered,” Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera declared. Political commentators expect the Karnataka election to inspire the opposition to form a united front against Modi as the country prepares for a general election in 2024. “The country has lost a crucial state in the south, robbing it of its pan-Indian status,” said eminent columnist Neerja Chowdhury.

“The BJP will have to rethink its strategy going ahead given the magnitude of the Congress victory. The results show the poor are hurting badly,” she said.

Hindutva is a core political ideology that promotes the “values” of Hinduism as the cornerstone of Indian society and culture since the BJP came to power in 2014.

BJP’s political opponents say the party’s ultranationalist rhetoric, based on Hindu nationalism and Hindutva, may not be as appealing to the overall electorate as a more inclusive, secular approach.

Eminent political scientist Professor Zoya Hasan pointed out that “the BJP campaign in Karnataka was driven by a communal narrative that lost badly to the inclusive message of the Congress”. Congress victory in Karnataka is a “morale booster,” she added.

With Congress well positioned to lead the opposition alliance, the verdict could potentially change the political landscape ahead of the 2024 general election.

After the Karnataka election, leaders of at least 12 political parties are expected to meet in Patna, in Bihar, to form a united opposition against the BJP next year.

In order to build an alliance to take on the BJP at the national level, the Congress will have to work out a strategic arrangement, according to Rasheed Kidwai, political analyst with the Observer Research Foundation.

Before the 2024 elections, opposition parties can capitalize on the BJP’s anti-corruption slogans, which are losing their sheen. Modi’s party was targeted in Karnataka as a result of rising inflation, corruption, and poor infrastructure, according to the opposition. In addition, it promised electricity subsidies and other forms of help to unemployed graduates and poor families.

In response, the BJP says it sees no threat to its narrative and questions whether any opposition bloc can survive coalition politics.

There are internal pressures and conflicts among the parties and taking on the BJP at a national level is a long shot,” BJP spokesperson Tom Vadakan told a media organisation.

The roadmap to the 2024 vote is still in its infancy, but the expectation is that the INC will lead the fight against the BJP over most seats, with other opposition parties taking a step back to avoid fragmenting the anti-BJP vote. In turn, the INC would leave room for regional parties to take on BJP lawmakers in the remaining seats. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: Supporters waving Congress flags in key Karnataka state assembly elections. Source: Economic Times.

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