The BJP’s challenges have increased after its rout in Karnataka, especially when the Lok Sabha elections are less than a year away. The party had won 25 out of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka in 2019, making the state its southern bastion. Another big worry for the party is the cascading effect this result might have on other southern states, especially Telangana which goes to polls later this year. The BJP was hoping to emerge as a big force in the state.
The Karnataka results may force the BJP to go back to the drawing board as some of its strategies appear to be losing their steam. For one, the ‘double engine’ slogan has not worked in Himachal Pradesh either, and now Karnataka electorate also wanted a change. As the BJP tried to contest assembly polls with national issues, including increased emphasis on the Hindutva plank, it could not overcome the local issues like those of livelihood or the corruption. The ‘40 percent sarkara’ slogan had stuck to its state government, which despite all the efforts could not be wiped out.
The jolt to the BJP may force the party to have a relook at its strategy as the move to change the state leadership midstream did not yield desired results.
The saffron party’s campaign had belatedly got a zing after Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived on the scene. His invocation of religious and cultural themes, especially Bajrangbali, could not help the party retain its hold. Despite this loss, Modi continues to be the BJP’s biggest bet in the elections, as states have voted differently in assembly and the Lok Sabha polls, as it could be seen in Delhi or in the results of 2018 assembly polls. Congress won state elections in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, but BJP performed well in 2019 Lok Sabha polls as it was seen as Modi’s election.
The big solace for the BJP is that the party was able to maintain its overall vote share of close to 36 percent. The Congress on other hand had gained at the expense of the JD(S).
In terms of perception, the loss of Karnataka makes BJP a north Indian party. It also does not have a party ruled state in eastern India, after Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar made a switch last year.
The Karnataka victory would make the Congress the leading partner in the Opposition unity grouping. The victory has come as a big morale boost for the Modi challengers as they will use this opportunity to double their efforts for arriving at a shared strategy. Two back to back victories – Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka – has prompted the Congress to hail Rahul Gandhi’s appeal including the impact of his Bharat Jodo yatra.
Rahul presented himself as an ideological counter to Modi may have got a boost. The Karnataka elections results have made the upcoming battles in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, where Congress and BJP are the prime contenders, much more interesting and keener. For Congress, the Himachal and Karnataka results highlight the success of its strategy to keep the focus on local issues, and let the local leaders carry the message. Its guarantees of cash stipends of women, old pension scheme and free electricity seem to be getting traction on the ground.
The BJP may have to rework on its messaging and strategy.