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Karnataka Mandate – Voters Rejected Anti-Muslim Rhetoric Government

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In spite of all odds, including the partisan referee, the people of Karnataka overwhelmingly defeated the incumbent BJP government as well as its anti-Muslim-centric divisive agenda also known as Hindutva. In the words of actor Prakash Raj, “it is not a vote for Congress; it is a vote against BJP and its ideology”.

Unmistakably, Congress won the 16th Assembly elections with a thumping majority and dethroned the BJP from power in the lone southern state of Karnataka that made South India or Dravidian lands free from the BJP. On the other hand, the Karnataka verdict also busted the many myths including Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘invincibility’ that had been manufactured by his managers with the support of a subservient media and “double engine sarkar” slogan.

A disdainful rejection of the anti-Muslim rhetoric and actions of the incumbent BJP government and its top leadership, however, may be summed up as the primary message of the people of Karnataka. The decision would also allow those secular parties, who play ‘soft’ Hindutva out of fear of losing Hindu support, the confidence to take on the Hindutva bogey (which is nothing but anti-Muslim propaganda) head-on.

The verdict has also given a loud message that there are few takers for the Ariyan brand of Hindutva in Dravidian lands as underlined by several commentators and the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin.

For the 224-member legislative assembly, elections were held on May 10 and results were declared on May 13. The ruling BJP which held 118 seats in the 15th Assembly was reduced to 66 by the Congress surge from 69 seats to 136. With a 43% vote share, Congress registered a seven percent lead over the BJP’s 35.9 in the course of the win.

BJP underperformed across the state
It should be emphasized that the senior leaders of the party had taken complete control of the polling preparations and made all of the major arrangements themselves. Modi’s frantic tour of the State included 18 rallies and five roadshows throughout the course of his six-day stay. Among the more than 120 key personalities who had actively campaigned in the State were Amit Shah, the party’s chief strategist, a sizable number of Union Ministers, and the vituperative monk Yogi Adityanath.

Even in its strongholds like the state capital of Bengaluru, where it lost three seats to Congress, the party underperformed throughout the state. It only received 14 of the available 28 seats. Even in its stronghold of coastal Karnataka, BJP’s vote share has crashed down which is considered as the hotbed of RSS activities.

The party was heavily banking on the powerful Lingayat community but most of them also ditched the BJP this time. Lingayats comprise an estimated 14% of the 5. 3 crore electorate. The Community has been fighting for independent religious status from what they call Vedic or Brahmin Dharma. Lingayats dominate about 90 of the 224 assembly segments in the state. Only 15 of the BJP’s 69 Lingayat candidates were able to win. While on Congress tickets 37 of the 46 Lingayat candidates were successful.

The party was unable to win even one of the Scheduled Tribe (ST) seats. In addition, the party suffered defeat in 24 of the 36 seats set aside for Scheduled Caste (SC) candidates.

There are 51 reserved constituencies in Karnataka, 36 of which are for candidates from the SC group and 15, for the ST community.

Furthermore, in the debacle that shocked the BJP leadership, 26 ministers in the Bommai government, who contested the election, almost half of them bite the dust including School education minister B C Nagesh who created the Hijab row.

Modi gave the election campaign a personal touch by presenting it as a vote for a double-engine sarkar. Invoking Bajrang Bali also gave it a divisive spin, especially in the last lap. But all these tricks fell flat. It is to be noted that BJP twice came to power in the state but had never secured even the requisite majority for forming the government. Even in 2018 — when it won 104 seats — its popular vote share was only 36 percent while Congress won 80 seats with 38 percent votes. It formed a government under the leadership of B.S. Yeddyurappa on Aug. 25, 2019, by creating defections in the Congress and JD(S) ranks.

Congress Stunning Success
The Congress staged an incredible recovery in the state that had been devastated by a succession of defeats countrywide after ten years. It garnered 122 seats in 2013 with a 36 percent vote. It obtained 135 seats, more than double the BJP’s record of 66, and about 43% of the vote. Its ally, the Sarvodaya Karnataka Paksha, won the one seat it contested. This is the biggest triumph for the party since 1989 when it had gained 178 seats.

A record high since 1989, when it received 43.76% of the vote, the vote share for the Congress likewise grew to a high of 42.9%.

The Congress manifesto used the renowned words “Sarva janangada shanthiya thota (the garden where all communities live in peace)” by the great poet Kuvempu as its motto. The public preferred this promise of welfare and its embrace of secularism. It is so tempting to concur with Rahul Gandhi’s statement that “Karnataka mein nafrat ka bazaar band hua hai aur mohabbat ki dukan khuli hai”. It’s also true that Rahul’s Bharat Jodo Yatra traveled all of Karnataka, and the Congress has performed quite well there.

The Congress adopted the strategy of focusing on hyper-local issues and trusted local leadership. It did not raise national issues like the Adani scam and others but local corruption issues. Its manifesto offered a cautious line on reinstating the old pension scheme (OPS) and promises to increase reservations for SCs, STs, OBCs, Lingayat and Vokkaliga communities, restore 4% quota for Muslims, and impose a ban on organizations spreading hate, whether it’s Bajrang Dal or PFI.

JD(S) reduced to oblivion
Once the powerful formulation of the state, the Janata Dal (Secular), led by former prime minister H D Deve Gowda, has been reduced to a marginal player in the state. Its standing dropped dramatically, going from kingmaker to minor player. The party’s vote total in the assembly elections fell to 20 seats from the 37 it gained in 2018, and this, combined with a dramatic drop in vote share of five percentage points from 18.3% to 13.3%, resulted in its worst electoral showing since 2004.

Muslim Vote Played Key Role
Muslim voters, who made up between 13 to 17 percent of the electorate, were crucial to the Congress’s convincing victory. They contributed to the victories of at least 67 to 72 candidates for Congress. It is said 88 percent of Muslim votes went into the Congress kitty. The community has shown exemplary patience in the face of extreme provocation and actions thus failing the BJP’s polarizing plank.

Attempt To Pass Over Hindutva Defeat
Several right-wing observers are characterizing the Karnataka mandate as a plain instance of anti-incumbency at the State level in an effort to downplay the failure of the Hindutva ideology. It’s partially accurate given that Karnataka hasn’t had an incumbent government that was re-elected in nearly 40 years. Given the widespread dissatisfaction with the Bommai government in particular, a renewed mandate seemed further away. An overly simplistic anti-incumbency narrative, however, would only obscure how the current “national” politics also significantly affect “state” outcomes.

The BJP’s election campaign and Modi’s speeches were fiercely divisive and communal, with claims that the Congress was collaborating with terrorists and Amit Shah warning of rioting if the Congress won. The Supreme Court blocked the BJP’s decision to eliminate the 4% quota for Muslims on election eve, which served as the party’s campaign’s first salvo. Asking the voters to shout ‘Jai Bajrang Bali’ after pressing the EVM button was not the only case. In order to win over Hindu voters, Modi also used the polarizing propaganda movie The Kerala Story. B.S. Bommai’s “face” was really a fig leaf for a campaign that was primarily overtly Hindutva. The hijab ban and halal meat, azan, love jihad, and other anti-Muslim issues ran throughout the campaign.

Voters in Karnataka did not respond favourably to the anti-Muslim rhetoric and actions of the BJP. As Hindutva poster boy, BJP heavyweight CT Ravi suffered defeat in Chikkamgaluru and has termed the verdict, a ‘personal loss, not that of our ideology’. He played a key role in a Hindutva agitation for control of a shrine in the Bababudangiri Hills

Another hardcore Hindutva acolyte B C Nagesh, the state’s minister of education, bites the dust at the hustings. Nagesh was the epicenter of every controversy in the state with a communal overtone, including the hijab issue and saffronization of school textbooks. He had lost by more than 17,000 votes to Congress challenger K Shadakshari for the Tiptur Assembly seat in the Tumkur district.

BJP Lost Its Lone Southern Post
The disastrous defeat in Karnataka has surely destroyed the BJP’s hopes of being regarded as a pan-Indian party. BJP managers believed that Karnataka also referred to as the party’s southern gateway, was the one state where their presence would herald their entry into other southern states.

After Karnataka’s victory, Congress President M. Mallikarjun Kharge declared, “Those who wanted ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’ ended up facing ‘BJP Mukt Dakshin Bharat’,” which proved to be true.