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Congress got its caste equations wrong

In a surprise turn of events, the Congress has extended support to the JDS in forming the next government in Karnataka where the election results indicate a hung Assembly. It was not yet clear if the Congress would extend support from outside or be a part of the new government. As a part of the agreement, the Congress is planning to appoint a chief minister from the JD(S) and a Dalit deputy chief minister from its own party. Sonia Gandhi had word with H.D. Deve Gowda for a possible alliance in the state. Siddaramaiah will meet Karnataka governor Vajubhai Vala to submit his resignation and the Congress and JD(S) together will stake claim to form the state government.

Coalition/alliance building will now follow a process unfamiliar to many in the past four decades. For those parties that are so apart ideologically or in vote-base terms that they can never align with the BJP, there is the challenge of finding a story to rival Modi’s dominance. Today, it looks overwhelming. If they unite and name a leader, a Modi versus A, B, or C presidential-style campaign will be a walkover.

BJP fell short of few seats for a majority but still, there are many factors that were responsible for the party’s victory. The aggressive push by the RSS mattered enormously on the ground. In constituencies all over Karnataka, especially in coastal and central Karnataka, the Sangh Parivar campaigned door-to-door, spending time with the families, asking them to vote for a Hindu party. The results show the Hindu card worked for the Hindus. During the last minute blitzkrieg from May 1 by Modi during which he addressed 21 public meetings and spoke to different groups via Namo App. On the ground, the cadre was enthused and the voters bought into his vision of Congress-mukt Karnataka.

The people of Karnataka took a leaf out of Tamil Nadu’s book. Just like the neighbouring state brought back Jaya in 2016 despite her jail stint in the disproportionate assets case, it brought back BSY. It showed corruption, as a card cannot be overused. Like Jaya had been punished in 1996 for the same case electorally, Yeddyurappa had met his Waterloo along with the BJP in 2013 for providing a corrupt government, the people were willing to give him a second chance. A lot was made of BS Yeddyurappa’s leadership, the fact that he had gone to prison in a corruption case that forced him to step down as CM in 2011.

The BJP had close to 20,000 WhatsApp groups in Karnataka, which it used aggressively to get its political messaging reach voters. Though the Congress claimed it had 16,000 groups, the kind of content it shared on the groups was no match for the BJP. While the Congress stole a march on the more urban medium of Twitter, the smartphone penetration ensured every voter was the recipient of BJP’s virtual outreach.

The feeling in the last five years that Siddaramaiah was anti-Vokkaliga and anti-Dalit, having marginalised senior leaders belonging to both communities proved to be his undoing. There was a feeling that his government was dominated by the AHINDA (Muslims, Dalits, backward classes) and the results in Old Mysore region where it was expected to do well, suggest that there has been a reverse consolidation against this.

Siddaramaiah expected the Lingayat card to work for the Congress to an extent, at least take away 8 to 10 per cent of the Lingayat votes away from the BJP. In 2013, the 9.8 per cent Lingayat vote shift to Yeddyurappa’s Karnataka Janata Paksha had brought about the BJP’s downfall. The results from the northern Karnataka shows that the ploy did not quite work and the BJP’s charge that Siddaramaiah was dividing Hindu community gained currency. But this move itself damaged Congress’s fate. The BJP had virtually outsourced three districts – Bellary, Chitradurga and Raichur to B Sriramulu and Gali Janardhan Reddy. Though Amit Shah and Modi, on the ground, kept Reddy at arm’s length he was unofficially in-charge of ensuring the BJP succeeds in central Karnataka. The Congress made Yeddy + Reddy’s an issue and hoped the rest of Karnataka would show its disgust to the homecoming of Reddy. Shah worked hard to ensure back-channel talks with the mutts, especially Lingayat and Dalit seers, to solicit their support for the BJP. The party was determined not to let the Lingayat vote move away from it.

The Congress fought this election like a regional outfit, highlighting the Kannadiga regional identity, flag, and language aggressively. None of it seemed to have worked at the hustling, with the people choosing to invest in a national identity. The Congress re-nominated most of its sitting MLAs, without realising that several of them faced severe anti-incumbency. The argument given then was that if they were not given tickets they would either defect or stand as the independent party and spoil the chances of the official Congress candidate. The results show that like many times before, the Congress messed up on this critical part.

If, as RSS ideologue Seshadri Chari says it will be Modi versus nobody (in particular) in 2019, it isn’t an exaggeration. The question is, will this equation hold for another year? Usually, you’d be inclined to believe that things do not stay the same in politics for a year and something’s got to give. But today, no analysis indicates how such a shift could come. The most significant fact is that the BJP did much better than the larger exit polls had predicted in the Old Mysore/ South Karnataka region. The Congress strategy of overlooking the two major castes, Vokkaligas and Lingayats, and putting together an alliance of the “rest” was audacious. It has surely failed. Karnataka is a very diverse electorate and each of the three parties has chosen its preferred combination and gone for broke focusing on it.

(Any suggestions, comments or dispute with regards to this article send us on [email protected])

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Dr Vaidehi Taman
Dr Vaidehi an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with Honourary Doctorate in Journalism, Investigative Journalist, Editor, Ethical Hacker, Philanthropist, and Author. She is Editor-in-Chief of Newsmakers Broadcasting and Communications Pvt. Ltd. for 11 years, which features an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, monthly magazines like Hackers5, Beyond The News (international) and Maritime Bridges. She is also an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Security Analyst and is also a Licensed Penetration Tester which caters to her freelance jobs.

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