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With general elections less than a year away, Karnataka 2018 polls yields some interesting insights

India Today cover story explores how the Assembly elections has given the BJP its first beachhead in the south under the Modi-Shah regime.

 |  4-minute read |   17-05-2018
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There is never a dull moment in Indian politics. With the conclusion of the bitterly fought Assembly elections in Karnataka, a theatre of the absurd is being enacted. The party that won the largest number of seats is out to form the government, but is short of a majority. The two parties that were staunch rivals forged an alliance within hours of the announcement of the result.

To top it all, the party with the least number of seats has been offered the coveted post of chief minister.

Then there’s the controversy over who the governor should invite first to form the government. There is precedent on both sides: for the single largest party as well as the post-poll alliance with majority seats.

What has completely vanished from the scene is any sense of morality. Money power will play a role in who eventually gets a majority. I spent a few days travelling in Karnataka during the elections and the leaders of all three parties told me they were winning with a clear majority. It was obviously election rhetoric but the irony is that each one is declaring himself a winner after the result.

That apart, with general elections less than a year away, Karnataka 2018 yields some interesting insights.

mag-cover_051718031506.jpgIndia Today cover story, Modi's Southern Coup, for May 28, 2018.

This election shows in spades that the lethal Modi-Shah combination of charisma and a win-at-any-cost strategy is still working, with the BJP increasing its tally from 40 to 104. The duo sets the tone and tenor of the campaign. PM Modi held 21 rallies and spent six days campaigning in Karnataka. In spite of being in power for four years and with a lacklustre candidate for the chief minister’s post, it is apparent that the Modi magic still works.

Caste is alive and kicking in Indian elections. By taking back their former tainted chief minister BS Yeddyurappa, the BJP ensured it won 46 (60 per cent strike rate) of the 76 Lingayat seats in comparison to the 11 it won in 2013. The other big caste in Karnataka, the Vokkaligas, remained loyal to the Gowdas and secured enough seats for them to demand the chief ministership.

This election has also shown that the communal card delivers votes wherever there is a high percentage of minority voters. The BJP won 16 of the 19 seats in coastal Karnataka where the minority population is 21 per cent of the electorate.

The Congress has to learn the lesson that wherever there is a three-way fight against the BJP, it pays to have a pre-poll alliance with a strong regional party. It has to lose its delusions of grandeur and be a bit player when the need arises. Winning the Karnataka elections would have given a big boost to Rahul Gandhi as the new Congress president. Now he has to wait for Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh to prove his credentials.

There is a lesson for all non-BJP parties too — they can beat the formidable BJP election machine and PM Modi’s pan-Indian image only if they combine forces.

It is also evident that anti-incumbency is a silent killer. It’s not always easy to detect. But it was a big factor in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and now in Karnataka. The BJP high command is aware of this as it prepares itself for the 2019 elections.

Morality has no place in Indian politics. You play to win. Taking on corrupt candidates or those from rival parties is not an issue as long as they can win. And, of course, those with deeper pockets have a better chance at winning. At least, corruption was not an issue this election. The electorate took it for granted that all were corrupt and will make money when in office. When there is a hung verdict, it is open season for dirty tricks.

In that sense, the Karnataka elections were significant for both mainstream parties. It has given the BJP its first beachhead in the south under the Modi-Shah regime. Also, if it is able to hold the state, it will deny the Congress power in a major state.

Now who learns what from this high-stakes election is yet to be seen, but the aftershocks will be felt for some time.

(India Today Editor-in-Chief's note for cover story, Modi's Southern Coup; May 28, 2018.)

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Assembly Elections 2018
Assembly Elections 2018

Writer

Aroon Purie Aroon Purie @aroonpurie

The writer is chairman and editor-in-chief of the India Today Group.

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