In high-stakes battle, how Karnataka was won...or lost

In high-stakes battle, how Karnataka was won...or lost


So near, yet so far. This could well sum up the BJP’s performance this election. For the Congress, it was a debacle in the making. The JD(S) has had the last laugh at a time when pundits had written them off.

This election was a high-stakes battle for all the three parties: The Congress was fighting to retain Karnataka, one of the last major states where it held power.

The BJP was eager to continue its victory run having won 22 states on its own or through allies. For the JD(S), positioned itself as a regional party, this election was crucial was its very survival as it has been out of power for a decade now.

Forming a coalition with the JD(S) to keep the BJP out of power may be seen as the Congress’ attempt to thwart the saffron party’s aggressive expansion across India, especially with Lok Sabha polls next year.

However, the BJP’s emergence as the single largest party can be attributed to its micromanagement strategy that its national president and chief strategist Amit Shah personally monitored. It also shows that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity has not waned. His blitzkrieg campaign just a week before polls was key.

It was a job well done for the saffron party to put itself together following its humiliating defeat in 2013. The party started gearing up for the May 12 polls at least two years back and drew up its plans that Shah himself anchored. However, lack of a pan-Karnataka presence is why the BJP fell short of the magic number of 113.

The Congress’ camp was a worried lot going into the election. It was against many odds, especially that it was facing threat of backlash from two of Karnataka’s most dominant communities - the Lingayats and Vokkaligas.

The decision to accord ‘religious minority’ status caused a setback, with several of its prominent Lingayat leaders losing and the BJP gaining in Lingayat-dominated constituencies.

Similarly, the ‘Vokkaliga anger’ against Chief Minister Siddaramaiah showed with his defeat in Chamundeshwari in particular, and the party’s losing ground in the Mysore-Mandya region.

That there were factions within the Congress resulted in an inefficient campaign. Evidently, the party relied only on its president Rahul Gandhi while local leaders did not make any poll noise in his absence. It is also said that an element of overconfidence did the party in.

The JD(S), too, had infighting. However, in its desperation to remain politically relevant, the regional party was the first to announce the first list of candidates way before the Congress and the BJP. The party also received support from Bahujan Samaj Party, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, the Telugu Desam Party and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen.

JD(S) state president HD Kumaraswamy banked on his popularity and pleaded with voters to give him one chance. “Save me and I will save you,” he said during one campaign. He has been saved, for now.