ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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BJP’s Southern Comfort

Success in Karnataka

Karnataka was the only state in South India where the Bharatiya Janata Party was able to record an impressive victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. This article examines the reasons for theBJP’s success and the failure of the Congress–Janata Dal (Secular) alliance to transform an anticipated dividend from electoral arithmetic. Caste calculus and ground-level chemistry had clearly adversely impacted on the Congress–JD(S) alliance and led to theBJP recording its best ever victory in the state.

Karnataka was the only state in South India, that conformed to the national trend and sent a large contingent of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members to the Lok Sabha in the 2019 polls. The state saw a bipolar contest involving the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular)—JD(S)—forming an alliance to take on the BJP. This alliance was formed a year earlier when the state had assembly polls (2018) which saw no single party secure a majority and the Congress and JD(S) came together to form a coalition government. Political survival necessitated the coalition partners in the state to remain together during the Lok Sabha elections to take on the BJP (Shastri 2018b). Many argued that the electoral arithmetic was in their favour. Their combined vote share in the assembly (2018) and the last Lok Sabha elections (2014) was much higher than that of the BJP. Yet, the results indicated that extrapolating the arithmetic may prove horribly wrong if ground-level political chemistry does not work (Shastri 2019; Devi and Nagesh 2019). The BJP came up with its best ever performance in the state, winning 25 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats besides ensuring the victory of an independent candidate backed by them. The JD(S) and Congress were left desperately clutching on to a single seat each. Once again for the first time, the BJP secured more than half the votes polled, an increase of over 8 percentage points compared to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The Congress–JD(S) alliance’s vote share fell by a steep 11 percentage points.

A range of factors and forces contributed to this result. At one level, the Karnataka voter made a clear distinction between national- and state-level polls and endorsed the claims of the BJP and its leadership for a second term. Second, the Congress–JD(S) alliance failed to take off at the party worker and supporter level. In many constituencies the formation of the alliance led to ceding space to the BJP. In much of the Old Mysore region, the traditional electoral contest was between the Congress and the JD(S). By coming together, they gave an opportunity to the BJP to make inroads into what were their traditional bastions. Third, the caste equations also saw a significant shift resulting in an advantage to the BJP. The Lokniti–Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) National Election Study (NES) 2019, provides useful insights into explaining the impressive BJP victory and what contributed to the defeat of the Congress–JD(S) alliance.

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Updated On : 2nd Aug, 2019
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